Originally Posted by L'Amour Fou (2009)
The Passions and Demons of Yves Saint Laurent
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: May 12, 2011
Oh to live the exquisite life! A wistful sigh of longing was my initial reaction to “L’Amour Fou,” Pierre Thoretton’s tantalizing documentary about Yves Saint Laurent, the French couturier who died in 2008.
Later I thought: Maybe not. To be surrounded by the most concentrated beauty the world has to offer and yet be chronically depressed is to confront the sad reality that material bounty may bring fleeting pleasure but nothing resembling peace of mind. To realize that you may have the world while still feeling as if you have nothing is to experience a closer encounter with the void than most of us are likely to have.
As his depression deepened Saint Laurent was joyful only twice a year, on the days a new collection was shown, usually to wild acclaim, according to friends interviewed in the film. Within 24 hours that joy had evaporated. Saint Laurent was so attached to his favorite objects that to part with even one of them would leave “a black hole” in his life, recalls Pierre Bergé, his partner (in business and in life) for a half-century. But the pride of ownership went only so far.
Much of this stately, rather detached biography, narrated by Mr. Bergé, is pornography for the eye (not the body), in which the camera surveys the treasures that the couple collected and that Mr. Bergé sold at a 2009 Christie’s auction for $483.8 million. (That figure is not named in the film.) The mad love of the movie’s title refers only tangentially to their relationship, in which Mr. Bergé was the controlling force and rock on which Saint Laurent built his empire. It refers more directly to their passion for collecting perfect houses filled with the world’s greatest art. In one house, Mr. Bergé recalls, all the rooms were named after characters from Proust.
“L’Amour Fou” is the third documentary about Saint Laurent, following “Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times” and “Yves Saint Laurent: 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris,” which are now available in the same DVD package. This one, built around the 2009 auction, is a sketchy dual biography that begins with Mr. Bergé’s remembrance of their meeting in 1958, the year after Saint Laurent, then 21, ascended the throne of the House of Dior following its founder’s death.
Vintage footage from Saint Laurent’s early days as a wunderkind show a slim, shy, bespectacled man-child with an impish sense of humor. (When an interviewer asks him what he most admires in a man, his answer is “body hair”; in a woman, it’s “charm.”) Neither a meticulous career retrospective nor a sensationalistic biography of a hedonist who went wild in the mid-’70s after discovering drugs and alcohol, the film concentrates on Mr. Bergé’s discreetly edited personal memories of their life together. When Saint Laurent’s nightlife grew too frenetic, Mr. Bergé moved to a nearby hotel. Saint Laurent finally became abstinent in 1990.
For all the ravishing art on display, “L’Amour Fou” is no catalog. As the camera surveys Picassos, Matisses, Braques and a treasured Brancusi, there is more than the eye can take in. The placement of the art inside their houses reflects their spontaneous style of spotting and collecting almost randomly and assembling everything into a glorious profusion. There is no attempt to analyze Saint Laurent’s importance as a designer, and clips of major Saint Laurent shows are accompanied by little if any analysis. Celebrity appearances are minimal.
If Mr. Bergé’s bite-size recollections are deeply loving, they don’t camouflage the demons that haunted Saint Laurent during his ascendance. Mr. Bergé doesn’t say so outright, but his stabilizing presence was essential to Saint Laurent’s success. Their partnership has similarities to that of Valentino Garavani and his business-and-life partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, as seen in the recent documentary, “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” Saint Laurent appears, however, to have been psychologically much more fragile and more aesthetically refined than his earthier (still living) Italian contemporary, who was born four years earlier.
Along with “Lagerfeld Confidential,” these movies form a trilogy mourning the demise of high fashion while paying tribute to the slightly mad geniuses given unlimited license to realize their design fantasies.
Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by Pierre Thoretton; written by Mr. Thoretton and Eve Guillou; director of photography, Léo Hinstin; edited by Dominique Auvray; music by Côme Aguilar; produced by Kristina Larsen and Hugues Charbonneau; released by Sundance Selects. In Manhattan at the Paris Theater, 4 West 58th Street, Manhattan. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. This film is not rated.