According to his longtime lover and business partner Pierre Bergé, the designer and global name brand Yves Saint Laurent adored haute couture “but he was never fooled by it.” He took it seriously, but just enough, Bergé says. At the same time, he says, “a courtier brings to mind the fame, the triumphs, the applause, the catwalk. But that’s not all. It’s a terrible profession.”
The swank, engaging documentary L’Amour Fou, from first-time feature filmmaker Pierre Thoretton, does what it can to explain why Saint Laurent found much of that profession difficult, deadline-dependent—a grind, at times, like any other line of work. Even as he retreated from public view, waging battles with chemical addiction and depression, Saint Laurent remained the public image of high fashion. He also introduced in 1966 the ready-to-wear concept that swept the world. But the movie deals with that for just a minute or two, before diving back into the exotic extremes.
L’Amour Fou is structured as a memory piece, beginning (and ending) as the art collection amassed by Saint Laurent and Bergé goes up for auction following Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. Director Thoretton interviewed Bergé, the primary focus here, six times over the course of several months. We’re told of the day Bergé met Saint Laurent at the 1957 funeral of Christian Dior, for whom Saint Laurent, then barely an adult, made a stylish name for himself. Soon enough, in Bergé’s words, “the first darts of love’s arrows struck us.” Until Saint Laurent’s death the French media covered his latest collections, his perfume line (including the controversial Opium), his travels like the couture rock star he was.
The archival material in L’Amour Fou runs a gamut of high style and medium kitsch (the Village People appear, briefly, along with Andy Warhol). Bergé is a meticulous and intriguing host, though one gets the feeling he’s relaying, very selectively, only so much of the messier side of his life with Saint Laurent. So be it. The film engages on its own terms, and if you don’t love the clothes, you’ll likely find one or more of the couple’s houses to be more to your liking, in that nose-pressed-against-the-glass way.