Friday, May 27, 2011
Movie review: L’amour fou
"He would seek refuge in his sorrow and his solitude."
First-time director Pierre Thoretton's touching Yves Saint-Laurent (YSL) documentary, L'amour fou, will likely tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the iconic fashion designer and his professional and personal relationship with long-time partner Pierre Bergé. Maybe more.
Relying on a series of interviews with Bergé and others (but mostly Bergé), filmmaker Thoretton hinges his screen story on the death of Saint-Laurent, the crating up of his belongings, and the fabulous auction of YSL and Bergé's private collection of art, held in the Art Nouveau exhibition hall of Paris’s Grand Palais. The auction ended up netting $477 million.
Leading up to the auction — during which we see Bergé watching with satisfaction from the back row, as item after item surpasses the bid estimates — Thoretton presents us with a capsule history of YSL's career, after the introduction of his first collection for the House of Dior in 1958. Vintage newsreels and photos are employed to give us a feel for the times, and for the glamour that YSL manufactured with such originality and aplomb.
YSL was let go from Dior, we learn, as a result of his refusal to take up French arms in the Algerian conflict. By 1962, he and Bergé had founded their own fashion house. Each new collection brought increasing fame and fortune, and at the end of each collection YSL introduced a wedding dress, in styles ranging from traditional (with a flair) to outrageously outré; we're treated to a slide show of some of his more memorable ones.
In 1965 YSL introduced his trend-setting Mondrian collection; a decade later came his Russian collection, for which he reportedly produced 40,000 sketches. "He drew beautifully," we are told, and the photographic evidence certainly supports it. In 1977 he released his Opium-branded perfume, to the consternation of conservative Americans (who took the nomenclature as a condoning of drug use) and Chinese, who compared their feelings about Opium to the way Jews might feel about a product called Holocaust.
The drug reference might have been closer to the mark than outsiders could have known, because — as Bergé reveals — by 1975, drugs and alcohol had become a serious problem for YSL. Even as Saint-Laurent was receiving the Legion of Honor from Mitterand (as Bergé looked on from the sidelines), he was sinking ever further into depression, evidenced by his increasing withdrawal from public life.
Eventually, says Bergé, "I only saw him happy twice a year: at the end of each collection."
Amidst all this remembrance of things past (YSL was a huge devotee of Proust), Thoretton takes us into the homes shared by Bergé and YSL around the world, from Paris to Normandy to Marrakesh. Accompanied by a melancholy piano score, the camera dollies slowly, almost reverentially, where YSL's feet (no doubt Persian slippered) once trod. Oh, the b-b-b-pathos!
YSL received treatment for his addiction in 1990, though his personality never quite rebounded, according to Bergé. His funeral procession was practically a state affair, accompanied by a 21-gun salute in the streets of Paris. The last shot of the film is one of the most memorable: It's taken out the plate glass window of the Normandy dacha; the camera pans away from the magnificent seaside view, and we find Bergé gazing directly into the lens — at us, that is — with a rather sly look on his face.
Is that a Mona Lisa smile we see?
To find movie showtimes for L'amour fou, click here.