Reviews

A Style Icon's Legacy is Dissected by the Man Who Loved Him in 'L'amour fou'

"Summer Hours" meets "Russian Ark" in this melancholy look at Yves Saint Laurent's artistic legacy.


L'amour fou

Director: Pierre Thoretton
Cast: Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent
Distributor: MPI
Rated: Not Rated
Release date: 2011-09-27

Throughout a career that spanned more than five decades, Yves Saint Laurent became a beacon of style, class and elegance. Upon his death in 2008, people the world over got more profound insight into his private life, when his partner and colleague Pierre Bergé decided to auction the entire art collection they’d amassed together.

Considered one of the most impressive private collections in history, the designer’s various homes ( he owned properties in France and Marrakesh) were decorated with pieces by Picasso, Cezanne, Giacometti, Gericault, Duchamp and many others. Originally set to chronicle this historical auction, Pierre Thoretton’s documentary L’amour fou instead becomes a melancholy piece that examines the life and times of a man who changed the way people think of clothes.

Alternating between a chronology of Saint Laurent’s life and the organization of the auction, the film covers enough subjects to appeal to fashion lovers, as much as casual viewers interested in good old fashioned cinematic spectacle. Layered with humanity and sincere interest in the story it’s telling, the film steers clear from falling into “poor rich people” stereotypes and even seems to avoid any sort of sexual or political agenda (that Bergé and Saint Laurent were two men in love is never turned into an “issue”).

What we see instead is a portrait of endurance, perseverance and chance to some degree. We learn that Pierre and Yves did not originally meet in some glamorous gala or star studded benefit, but instead at Pierre Cardin’s funeral. Yves had been the iconic designer’s apprentice and would eventually inherit the legendary couture house, becoming -- at 21 years old -- one of the youngest grand couturiers in history.

When the time came for him to move on to greener pastures, he and Berge decided that it just wouldn’t do to work for another of the big fashion houses. Instead, the two set out to create the YSL empire. Listening to Bergé’s account is altogether more fascinating because it mixes emotion with pure capitalism. For every heartfelt mention of how much he loved Yves and how he knew they would be together forever shortly after meeting him, there is a pervasive, somewhat dark acknowledging that sometimes pleasure and business can go hand in hand.

We listen to Bergé’s recollections and wonder if this is who he is or if he’s keeping a few secrets from the camera. We notice that the filmmaker has the same doubt, as he tries to catch Pierre revealing more than he wants without much success. The closer he gets is through distant glances, especially when Pierre talks about the art pieces in the collection. It never becomes entirely clear to us why he would want to get rid of everything, instead of holding on to them like mementos of the man he loved.

Through archival interviews we get a sense that despite his shyness and introspection, Yves had something that resembled a tragic self-awareness. Behind his iconic eyeglasses and sweet smile was a man who never really tried to absolve his public persona of the accusations of extreme hedonism thrown at him by the media. We see him partying in Studio 54 and learn that not only was this done purposely for public attention, it also went against who he was inside.

Yves, it turns out, was a being plagued by endless contradictions. He loved the idea of travel and exotic lands but instead of visiting them, he preferred to recreate them in tiny, controllable, spaces (we see how inspired by Chekhov he created a Zhivago-esque palace in one of his houses). The camera explores these spaces using long pans that fail to absorb the entire richness of its surroundings. There is just way too much to see (as is proven by almost an hour of bonus footage, which sadly isn’t organized well enough for viewers to enjoy fully) and this optical inefficiency is actually able to encompass the film thematically.

With so many paradoxes going on, we begin to wonder what the film is truly about. Even if it never feels aimless, rarely does it seem to be making a specific point and at times its elusiveness seems to make us think this is one clotheless emperor.

However, it achieves some sort of poignancy by making us reexamine the value we give to objects and their roles in our lives. This is curious, considering that Yves Saint Laurent’s own line of work is usually the object of discussions about its artistic worth. Since the film examines this without the emotional filter Olivier Assayas used in his moving Summer Hours (which covers similar themes) we are left with a harsher look at life: one where whether we’re famous or not, we are warned that we might become nothing but ghosts who haunt the lives of those who once knew and loved us.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image