Thursday, August 4, 2011

L'Amour Fou (Rhoades)

“L’amour fou” Gives Off-kilter Portrait of Yves Saint Laurent
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I have a rare photograph of my friend Veruschka, a rifle slung across her shoulders, wearing an Yves Saint Laurent safari suit. Tall and lanky, this once-famous supermodel strutted the catwalks for YSL back in the ’60s. She tells me fascinating stories about this mercurial couturier, his genius, his depressions, his addictions, his jet-set lifestyle.

Director Pierre Thoretton sets off to capture such stories about the late designer in a documentary titled “L’amour fou” – playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Starting with Saint Laurent’s retirement speech, we learn that he became the assistant to Christian Dior at 18, succeeded him at 21. He was later fired for avoiding service in the Algerian war, a stroke of “good luck,” for it enabled him to start his own couture house with the help of his life partner Pierre Bergé.

He tells us that he believed that “fashion’s role was not simply to make women beautiful but to reassure them, give them confidence …”

That aside, the main theme of the documentary is not haute couture, but rather Yves Saint Laurent’s relationship with his partner.

Director Thoretton’s storytelling is straightforward: Mostly comprised of archival black/white photos interspersed with a meandering interview with Bergé. An apartment tour showing off their art and some catwalk footage from various fashion shows complete this pastiche.
We learn that Yves Saint Laurent’s first fashion collection in 1962 was a “triumph.” Famous customers started coming. As Bergé points out, “Yves had genius.”

We’re treated to YSL’s Mondrian Collection (only 5 or 6 dresses in the show actually fit that description), inspired by the famous painter. Bergé says he never thought they would be able to afford an original Mondrian, but thanks to financial success several paintings “came into our life.”

Over the next 20 years they amassed fabulous works of art. First a carved bird from West Africa. Then several Art Deco vases. By the mid-60s they owned a sculpture by Brancusi.
Thoretton’s camera takes us on a tour of their Parisian apartment. Bookcases lining the walls, marble busts, checkered tiles, oriental rugs … and paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Goya, and Mondrian.

We learn that Christie’s is about to auction off this collection. Workmen are packing up the artwork piece by piece, eventually leaving bare walls.

It is always painful to see a collection that was lovingly acquired being dismantled and sold off. But Bergé is able do that, exactly what he says Saint Laurent never could have done himself.

In the meantime we follow the story of the younger couple, off to Morocco where they bought a house with yellow walls in a section of Marrakech known as the Lemon Garden. The Rolling Stones often came to visit.

But Yves Saint Laurent wasn’t happy. As a friend said, “We were people who were born feeling depressed.”

“I’m in my cage and I can’t get out,” Saint Laurent lamented.

By 1975 he’d discovered alcohol and drugs, a way of dealing with the pressure of his life as a big-name designer. This led to a breakup, with Bergé moving into a hotel.

Nonetheless, their life remained intertwined. In the early-80s they bought a 19th-century manse near Deauville, where Saint Laurent read books by Proust and became reclusive. Bergé went to dinners with friends, leaving his partner to ruminate about the downside of fame (“the dazzling mourning of happiness,” he called it).

“That describes Yves perfectly,” says Bergé. “Fame brought him nothing.”

In the ’90s, Saint Laurent sought treatment for his addictions, never touching another drop of alcohol. But at the same time he withdrew from his work, claiming the profession had been “handed over to tradesmen.”

“L’amour fou” ends with Christie’s auction of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection, the prices staggering. Bergé describes the paintings as birds looking for a new place to perch. He hawks a friend to make him happy by buying a painting before an American competitor does.

At one point in the film a 20 Questions interview gives us an ephemeral portrait of Yves Saint Laurent. We learn that he saw himself as kind, thought being bald would be a calamity, liked male body hair, imagined heaven as a big bed, and greatly admired his models.

However, Saint Laurent is but a ghost in this film. This is really about Bergé’s own memories of the famous fashion designer who was his troubled partner. In many ways, “L’amour fou” tells us more about Pierre Bergé than it does about Yves Saint Laurent.
[from Solares Hill]

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