BY NANCY R. MANDELL
Despite its title, “L’Amour Fou,” the documentary memoir of Pierre Bergé —the business and life partner of couturier Yves Saint Laurent for 50 years—is not about their “mad love” affair, but about Saint Laurent’s passion for collecting the art and objets that constituted a great part of their life together. And even the madness of that passion is something we must take for granted from Bergé’s assertion that Saint Laurent could never have parted with any of those treasures as Bergé did when, following Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, he arranged for Christies to auction off the remarkable collection in a memorable event at Le Grand Palais in Paris.
Except for the opening scenes of Saint Laurent’s retirement press conference, Bergé’s recollections serve as the film’s narration. As the businessman in their partnership, he admits to being its controlling force. As observers, we are simply left to accept that the duration of their relationship—even in the face of Saint Laurent’s addiction to drugs and alcohol in the 70s—attests to their passion for each other. Most of what we see in the film is companionship and, in a couple of scenes, Saint Laurent’s almost childlike admiration of Bergé. It’s left to his female muses, like the colorful Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux who, in their brief contributions relay more of Saint Laurent’s spirit, his devotion to his profession.
As for the collection itself, and the several magnificent homes the couple acquired in which to house it, the camera seems only to graze the surface. Everything is worth a close-up, but director and co-author Pierre Thoretton doesn’t allow Leo Hinston’s camera the overindulgence such fabulous works of art deserve.
How could Bergé bear to part with the works of art that he and Saint Laurent had assembled over decades? His rationale is that, as a collaborative effort, the collection was composed of their “blended tastes” and, without Saint Laurent, “no longer means anything.” Moreover, Saint Laurent could never have organized such a sale because he would have been unable to part with a single item. It is a businessman’s assessment.
The documentary—which is neither the first nor probably the best—about the couturier who died of brain cancer at 72—is curiously detached, given the fabulous excesses of Saint Laurent’s life and designs. It’s sad to learn he was actually happy and satisfied only twice a year, when his fashions were presented on runways throughout the world, always to furious critical acclaim. A great deal of his life seems to have been passed in a melancholy haze of either drugs or depression, made no more appealing by the celebrities and beautiful people around him or the trendy and exotic places where they played.
The film comes to life when it covers the clothing collections—particularly a retrospective of Saint Laurent’s bridal creations and the presentation of 300 models on the playing field of the Stade de France for the 1998 World cup finals.
Bergé confesses that, from the first day he met the designer, he decided “to live in his shadow. So I’m not going to complain about being in his shadow, because the greater the size of the shadow, the greater the size of the tree….I wanted (Yves) to be the biggest tree in the forest, which he was, And I’m not going to criticize him for overshadowing me; it never bothered me.”
Spoken like a true shadow, and, alas, “L’Amour Fou” ends up being the memoir of a shadow.
The film, which was shown at The Tribeca Film Festival last month, opened in New Jersey on Friday (May 20) at the Clairidge in Montclair. Check for showings in your area.