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L’Amour fou review

By Nathan Lee

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L'Amour fou

L’Amour fou is not about a shy, myopic young man named Yves Saint Laurent who, at the age of 21, inherited one of the defining roles in modern French culture—chief designer for the house of Dior. It is not about how he met and fell in love with Pierre Bergé, and how together they founded their own couture house in 1961; not about their historical innovations in prêt-à-porter; nothing to do with le smoking, safari chic, Mondrian dresses, ethnographic couture. It is not about luxury and lassitude, fame and depression, hanging out with Andy Warhol and hiding out, drug-addled, in Marrakesh. L’Amour fou is not about the death of Saint Laurent in 2008 nor the lavish auction, held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2009, which offered up (to the highest bidder) a taste of the extraordinary material and imaginative residue of the Laurent-Bergé partnership: Cézannes and Picassos and Mondrians, exquisite furniture and historically significant kitsch, six-figure bric-a-brac, wondrous light fixtures, leopard-skin banquets, Chinese antiquities, Art Deco tchotchkes, rare homoerotica. 

Directed with rigorous tact by Pierre Thoretton, L’Amour fou recounts all these things but is unconcerned with speaking of their resonance through any historical, let alone hagiographical, framework. It is devoted, rather, to the calm, thoughtful, and ultimately elusive reflections of M. Bergé on the dismantling of a legacy. David Teboul has already given us a standard biopic in Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times—as well as one of the strangest and most beautiful of all documentaries about creative production in Yves Saint Laurent 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris. (The title of which, directly evoking Chantal Akerman’s termite portrait of a Belgian housewife, graphs Teboul’s project: a hard, meticulous stare at the obsessive production of a prêt-à-porter collection inside the hermetic chambers of the YSL atelier.) L’Amour fou belongs less with these films than with Summer Hours, Olivier Assayas’s elegant essay on the affective, indexical, and genealogical intensities of objects passing through time.  

Dressed in a soft brown suit, the Légion d’honneur rosette affixed to his lapel, Bergé recalls the first object purchased with Yves: a bird sculpture from West Africa. Next, an arresting pair of Deco vases, followed by a wooden Brancusi from the Galerie Tarica in Paris, carefully dismantled before our eyes and packed away by the staff of Christie’s. Cinematographer Léo Hinstin (a camera assistant on both Summer Hours and 5 Avenue Marceau) tracks thousands of such treasures in their privileged sites: arranged in bedrooms on the Rue de Babylone; scattered on patios in Marrakesh; gracing the shelves of a sunroom in Normandy. This haute Architectural Digestism is undercut by Bergé’s apparent lack of sentimentality and nostalgia, the simplicity of his unburdening—a mask of humility undercut, in turn, by the complexity of feeling which one intuits beneath his eminently poised Gallic reserve.

Everything is shipped to the Grand Palais. The “sale of the century” nets close to half a billion dollars. Overseeing the drama from his private viewing booth, Bergé briefly applauds an especially dramatic sale, then gently folds his hands in self-possession.

© 2011 by Nathan Lee

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