L’Amour Fou (IFC/Sundance Selects, NR)

Bergé’s memories of Saint Laurent are distant and sanitized, which is reasonable given that he is recalling a deceased friend and lover, but they don’t make for the most exciting cinema.

 

 

 

Élégie would be a better title than L’Amour Fou for Pierre Thoretton’s documentary about the life of Yves Saint-Laurent. There’s very little mad love in this film, structured around interviews with Saint Laurent’s business partner and sometime lover Pierre Bergé, but quite a bit of gentle melancholy. That’s exactly what you would expect from a buttoned-down businessman whose longtime friend and companion had recently passed away. Côme Aguiar’s plaintive soundtrack and Léo Hinstin’s gliding camera reinforce the film’s tone of elevated and somewhat exquisite suffering.

L’Amour Fou doesn’t go very deep but it does go broad, assembling an overview of Saint Laurent’s career illustrated with a splendid selection of archival photographs, interviews, and film clips including, naturally, lots of footage from fashion shows. It gives you some sense of the pleasures and terrors of being a prodigy in the high-pressure fashion world (Saint Laurent was tapped as Christian Dior’s successor at the age of 21 and opened his own fashion house four years later) as well as of Saint Laurent’s well-known difficulties with mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse. More interesting to me is Bergé’s matter-of-fact narrative of their long-term relationship, highs and lows included, which is presented (as it should be) as no more extraordinary than a relationship of similar length between a man and a woman.

The "news value" of L’Amour Fou is provided by the auction of Saint Laurent and Bergé’s extensive art collection, and sometimes it feels like these objects are more interesting to the director than the human beings who owned them. Hinstin’s camera can’t get enough of feasting on these treasures (they sold for $483.8 million, according to the New York Times; no figure is named in the film). On the other hand scenes of the art being crated up can’t help but put one in mind of Citizen Kane. The fact that Saint Laurent and Bergé owned several homes (including one in Marrakech and another in Normandy) which are presented in this film as if they were locations for an Otto Preminger film (the perpetually gliding camera does become annoying) only increases this feeling. However I lay some of the blame on the fact that L’Amour Fou moves so slowly that your mind is driven to hatch this kind of theory just to have something to do.

L’Amour Fou is not a bad documentary but its appeal is limited by the hands-off approach of the director as well as the peculiarities of its construction. Bergé’s memories of Saint Laurent are distant and sanitized, which is reasonable given that he is recalling a deceased friend and lover, but they don’t make for the most exciting cinema. A more serious problem is that the two halves of the film—Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé story and the art auction—don’t really have much to do with each other. Were I a more suspicious person I might sniff opportunism at work, following a scenario like this: Thoretton got the chance to shoot the auction, gained the confidence of Bergé and decided that with enough archival footage added in he could make a documentary out of it. Not a great documentary but one that could be sold on the strength of the Saint Laurent name.

L’Amour Fou will appeal primarily to people who have an interest in fashion, popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s and/or gay relationships before Stonewall. A delicious selection of clips and archival photographs is undercut by editing that is sometimes bizarrely abrupt as well as by Thoretton’s tendency to mention something—the prêt a porter controversy, Chinese objections to naming a perfume "opium"—then drop it rather than following up. At other times Dominique Auvray’s editing approaches mickey-mousing as Bergé will make a remark that is immediately followed by a clip illustrating that very point. The end result is a mixed bag: a film that touches on several interesting subjects but that also feels haphazard and overly long. If you don’t arrive already interested in the subject matter L’Amour Fou won’t do much to change your mind. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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