L’Amour Fou Dir. Pierre Thoretton

[IFC Films; 2011]

Styles: documentary, biography
Others: Christian Dior: The Man Behind the Myth; Valentino: The Last Emperor; Chanel Chanel

Pierre Thoretton’s first documentary feature is a perceptive, artfully crafted, and revealing long-form interview with Pierre Bergé, shot primarily while the longtime business partner and lover of the late Yves Saint Laurent was in the process of selling off their impressive art collection. L’Amour Fou opens with Laurent’s beautifully worded and elegantly delivered retirement speech in 2002, wherein the pioneering fashion designer mentioned both his aesthetic ghosts and his sincere belief that haute couture was a vehicle by which he could empower women. Even in this, his most notable public address, Laurent said little of consequence about himself. Always an enigmatic figure behind his iconic horn-rimmed glasses, the amount to which Laurent piqued the interest of the high fashion world was owed in large part to the control and mastery over his image that Bergé exerted for more than half a century. So it makes perfect sense that Bergé would have such an integral role in the realization of L’Amour Fou.

The documentary has an altogether meditative feel, utilizing many long, thoughtful tracking shots throughout the various apartments and grand houses that Laurent and Bergé once called home, ranging from the intimate and tchotchke-filled library of their famous apartment on Rue Babylone to a house in Marakech that looks eerily like something Tarsem would be happy shooting. In all of these former dwellings, we find the unique and almost frustratingly expensive pieces of art that the two fashion powerhouses amassed during their reign as the proprietors of the couture house ne plus ultra for the latter half of the 20th century. Thoretton uses the various pieces of art that Bergé is selling as jumping off points for stories concerning Bergé’s life with Laurent, from the beginning of their romantic and professional relationship up until Laurent’s death in 2008.

While the doc features some totally entertaining asides and funny anecdotes about drug use and disco music from two of Laurent’s stalwart muses, namely Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux, Bergé’s grand and often poetic soliloquies provide the lion’s share of this film’s intrigue. Bergé plays it a little close to the vest, maintaining a comfortable yet awkward emotional distance from Laurent in his filmed recollections of the man. One of the first things Bergé makes clear is his utter disbelief in the soul, afterlife, and the intrinsic value of the various objet d’art he’s trying to sell off to the highest bidder. This graceful and impeccably put together silver fox also finds it important enough to go out of his way — while acting completely nostalgic — to condemn nostalgia as a form of weakness. This apparent contradiction is symptomatic of what made it possible for Bergé to control so tightly and shape so thoroughly the YSL brand for so many years. The unnervingly manufactured naturalness of Bergé’s statements, the ease with which he manages to talk so well without really saying much of anything, is perhaps a part of what so many people love (and probably at least as many loathe) about fashion, design, and the aesthetic life in general.

Those eager to learn intriguing secrets about the man who finally made it okay for women to wear trousers in public may be a little disappointed by the lack of sensationalism on Bergé’s part. With L’Amour Fou, Thoretton and Bergé are content allowing Mr. Laurent to maintain a large part of his mystique, and in the process impart a whole bunch more about the commingling of appearance and substance, and what fashion — even prêt-à-porter fashion — has to say about man’s relation to himself than any tell-all fashion doc could ever dream to. With the possible exception of Mizrahi’s Unzipped.

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