Title: L’Amour Fou
Director: Pierre Thoretton
Documentaries are great, in that they can shine a light on all sorts of niche subjects heretofore unexplored, but they can also be a major drag or bore, especially when their makers become too convinced of the grand, sweeping importance and inherent interest level of their subject matter. Case in point: L’Amour Fou, a hagiography of haute couture legend Yves Saint Laurent that played at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Solemn to the point of utter suffocation, director Pierre Thoretton’s wildly tedious exploration of the French-Algerian designer — who studied at the feet of Christian Dior, and following his death briefly stood in line for ascension at his company, as artistic director — unfolds through the eyes of his business partner and mostly life-long lover, Pierre Berge, but provides a maddeningly circumspect and vague portrait of the man in question.
Very reminiscent of Craig Teper’s equally fawning (but more engaging) look at the iconic stylist Vidal Sassoon from earlier this year, L’Amour Fou unfolds in an unimaginatively conceived bundle of interview clips and other footage, leading up to a 2008 auction of the vast art collection and other appointments spread across the three lavish homes of Berge and Saint Laurent. Apart from a four-minute speech that opens the movie, an additional handful of interview clips with old muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, and footage from a couple brief archived chats with Saint Laurent himself (the most fascinating of which finds him almost plaintively confessing a desire to “escape responsibility”), Thoretton uses Berge exclusively as his access point into Saint Laurent’s inner thinking.
Perhaps surprisingly, this single-narrator approach yields little insight. It casts a pall of understandably canted subjectivity over the film, but it also just doesn’t give a full-bodied, three-dimensional sense of who Saint Laurent — who seems like he could be played by an impish Crispin Glover in a biopic — truly was. His friend and lover describes Saint Laurent as a genius, but apart from a few early bromides about fashion existing to “give women confidence and reassurance,” there are precious few specifics about his work habits or occupational vision, and no complementary stamp of approval from those whose lives he presumably touched. Berge dispassionately chronicles Saint Laurent’s bouts of infidelity, and later problems with drugs and alcohol, but he does so in a dry, elliptical and almost clinical manner that doesn’t lend the proceedings any real depth in its exploration of what was very likely a life-long depression on the part of its subject. Hence, at 104 minutes, the movie becomes a yawning death march through a bunch of very nicely furnished and ornately decorated living rooms.
The title translates loosely as “crazy love,” but Thoretton shows us nothing particularly doomed, mad, intense or special about the relationship at the film’s core. In fact, though Berge briefly left him during a few points, he and Saint Laurent apparently always fairly quickly reconciled, and seem to have each exhibited a massive co-dependence as much as anything else. With L’Amour Fou, the private feelings and demons of a very successful man remain impenetrable, which is doubly frustrating since its director doesn’t seem to have even thought of asking the questions that would bring about even a glancing, let alone sincere, illumination.
Written by: Brent Simon