Marrakech Film Festival Day 1: Yves Saint Laurent

by Pablo Calvi

8 December 2014

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Flat white, like a gust of wind from the desert or the walls at the medina, Yves Saint Laurent has made his appearance in Marrakech this week. Not in film, despite the fact that two French biopics—Jalil L’Espert’s Yves Saint Laurent, and Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent— trail the life and work of the Algerian couture genius (the latter will compete for the foreign-language Oscar in 2015). 

“It’s the colors and the scents [of Marrakech] that reminded him of his childhood, that inspired him,” Bonello, one of the nine jury members of the 14th Marrakech International Film Festival, explained early this morning at the Palais des Congrès before the first screening. It was a dry, sunny morning, vibrant in blues and yellows, pregnant with lavender and incense, things that Bonello surely noticed: “These visions and smells are impossible to find in France.” 

Saint Laurent, his movie, which won’t be shown during the festival, was fully shot in France. “Unfortunately, due to budgetary reasons we had to shoot those Moroccan scenes in the outskirts of Paris, in November,” he explained. However, a good number of the actors and himself have made their way to Morocco as an unexpected tribute to the designer.

Isabelle Huppert, the French actress and personality who presides over the festival’s jury this year, brought back Saint Laurent in a few moving words yesterday too. “This makes me think of him,” she volunteered after a long, emotive pause, before a packed theater. She was presenting a tribute to Egyptian actor and comic Adel Emam. 

Saint Laurent was not a fan of big audiences himself, and in Morocco he found refuge and inspiration away from Europe. This ancient city was for him a fountain of youth, and after his death in 2008 he became an inevitable presence here, a constant energy that feeds the ample streets and busy gardens; a point of departure and an explanation.

“Making this movie was one of the best things that happened in my life, and it will be forever the first movie I made,” Aymeline Valade, the French model-cum-debutante actress who played the role of iconic Betty Catroux, told Grey. At a patio in the Moroccan Restaurant of La Mamounia hotel, a medieval Arab fortress and palace, stashed to the brim with bronze oil lanterns, crimson velvet chaises, and turbaned porters, Valade remembered that, at first, she was reluctant to take the role. “I didn’t want to be the cliché of another model who tries to become an actress.” But the role intrigued her. Catroux was one of YSL’s closest companions and confidantes, the woman who Saint Laurent himself described as a twin sister from a different mother. 

“When I saw the movie I was stunned, it's beautiful … Bertrand did a tremendous job,” she said, flapping her long hands left and right, a golden ring and bracelet touched with golden spheres, like tiny planets, orbiting and scintillating around her endless wrists and fingers. Only the rings and the shiny pink collar of her black woolen coat, made her attire somewhat feminine. Black Oxford shoes, straight navy blue pants and round-neck cashmere sweater were, perhaps, a consequence of embodying Catroux, and spending some time in the world of Saint Laurent.

“I didn't know how much he did at night,” she confessed. “He never stopped, he was constantly making things.”

Marrakech Film Festival Opening Night
Marrakesh Film Festival Day 2: Mortensen’s Game 

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