‘L’amour Fou’ Explores Key Relationship in Fashion History

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – At the heart of Pierre Thoretton’s melancholy documentary is a story of lost love, lost art, and the ever-present aura they leave behind. Pierre Bergé is often credited as co-founder of the couture house headed by world famous designer Yves Saint Laurent. Yet “L’amour Fou” allows Bergé to set the record straight on just how large a role he played in Saint Laurent’s phenomenal success.
 
Though this story is indeed a great one, this is not the first time a film has tackled it. In 2002, filmmaker David Teboul made two films about Saint Laurent. One focused more on his personal life, while the other provided a thorough overview of his trail-blazing fashions. Moviegoers seeking a well-rounded portrait of Saint Laurent should seek out Teboul’s work, since Thoretton’s film is somewhat limited by the perspective of Bergé, who repeatedly attempts to define a psyche that he may not have fully understood.
 
Of course, there aren’t many viewpoints to counter the opinions of Bergé, who lived with the chronically depressed, increasingly reclusive designer for five decades. “L’amour Fou” intercuts photographs and rare archival footage of the couple (who were both lovers and business partners) with present-day sequences leading up to Bergé’s February 2009 auction following Saint Laurent’s death. As Bergé watches hundreds of priceless works from a variety of towering artists, both legendary and anonymous, being tossed into the hands of the highest bidder, Bergé has the expression of a man who’s watching his life being auctioned off before his eyes. His belief in the enduring nature of art, and his lack of a belief in the human soul, brings added poignance to this sale of his and Saint Laurent’s prized possessions. It’s as if Bergé is auctioning off his own limbs, purging himself of the past that he had maintained for so long. The couple allowed their artistic impulses to direct their purchases over the years, and the influence of various painters would find their way into Saint Laurent’s haute couture. One of the more memorable dresses included in the film was directly inspired by the work of Piet Mondrian.

Yves Saint Laurent surveys his models in Pierre Thoretton’s L’amour Fou.
Yves Saint Laurent surveys his models in Pierre Thoretton’s L’amour Fou.
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

Though “L’amour Fou” features a fair amount of fashion montages, it doesn’t ever delve under the surface of precisely what made Saint Laurent’s work so vital. The film begins with the ailing legend’s touching announcement of retirement, in which he says that it was his goal to create the “modern woman’s wardrobe,” comprised of outfits designed to assist women in asserting themselves. He mentions being trapped in a prison of depression, and Thoretton lingers quite a bit on Saint Laurent’s antisocial behavior, though the film never attempts to explain the reasons for his mental issues, which have often been blamed on the horrendous treatment he received at a French military hospital. It was the last place Saint Laurent expected to end up, after becoming the assistant to Christian Dior at age 18, succeeding him at age 21, and launching the Spring 1958 collection that ended up saving the business. To be fair, Thoretton’s film does note that Dior owner Marcel Boussac wanted to get rid of the budding wunderkind after his failed 1960 collection, and asked for him to be conscripted into the army. This resulted in Saint Laurent being sent to the hospital after 20 days in the service. He subsequently founded the Yves Saint Laurent Couture House with Bergé in 1961, and the rest is history.
 
A convincing case is built within the footage that Bergé was the engine behind Saint Laurent’s momentum, providing him with the fuel and motivation to continue on his path throughout all the ups and downs. Some of the designer’s favorite muses, such as Betty Catroux and Loulou De La Falaise, recall being frightened of Bergé backstage, while Saint Laurent remained largely withdrawn. Bergé claimed that he only saw his lover happy twice a year: at the end of each collection. There’s some charming footage of a shy and modest Saint Laurent folding his arms and breaking out into a big, geeky grin. There are times in which his resemblance to Crispin Glover is so striking that you can half-imagine the eccentric actor successfully headlining a biopic in the near future (hey, weirder things have happened). Yet beneath all the bashful smiles was a lonely man who never had the chance to savor the fruits of youth. In a particularly candid TV interview, Saint Laurent admits that he missed living the life of a regular 20-year-old, and wished that he could go back to a “less sensible time.”

L’amour Fou opened June 3 at the Music Box.
L’amour Fou opened June 3 at the Music Box.
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

Though Thoretton hints at the multi-cultural influences in Saint Laurent’s work, the film barely scratches the surface, and occasionally threatens to become a travelogue of the various countries in which he and Bergé used to own homes. Yet Léo Hinstin’s cinematography creates a hypnotic tone, as it glides through empty rooms haunted by ghosts forever etched in photographs. Inanimate objects somehow take on a life of their own, as Bergé describes their special place in his heart. Perhaps the presence of so many beloved artworks was simply too painful for Bergé to bear. Though the couple officially split in 1976, they remained close friends and partners up until the very end. This brings the climactic auction undeniable emotional power, though too much of the film’s slim 98-minute running time is spent on the preparation for the eventual sale. Côme Aguiar’s repetitive score does little more than make the film feel like an extended eulogy.

It’s difficult to imagine moviegoers preferring this heartfelt yet rather somber doc over Richard Press’s more lively and effortlessly entertaining portrait of fashion photographer Bill Cunningham (which recently began its own run at the Music Box). Yet what “L’amour Fou” lacks in scope and detail, it makes up for in the sheer intimacy of its storytelling. If anything, the film is a superb exploration of Bergé, and his feelings concerning the man who continues to remain somewhat of an enigma. Any love story told from one perspective is automatically going to make viewers hungry to hear the other side of the tale.

‘L’amour Fou’ features Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Betty Catroux, Loulou De La Falaise, Jack Lang and Catherine Deneuve. It was directed by Pierre Thoretton. It opened June 3 at the Music Box. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

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