From the opening credits, you know that this film will be about beauty. First there is the haunting piano score by Come Aguiar, which recalls something like a Claude Sautet film. The opening titles are as gentle and quirky as one would see in a Godard or Almodóvar film. The opener is Yves Saint Laurent’ somber and heartfelt announcement of his retirement, back in 2002; in the speech, he quotes both Rimbaud and Proust. This is followed by the eulogy at his funeral by his longtime partner Pierre Bergé. There is a brief cutaway shot of the grave marker, as exquisite and chic as a flaçon of one of his perfumes. Yes, you know that this film will not be about fashion, but about beauty, and of course, love.
Everything about this elegant documentary is also utterly like a French film. First, there is the piano score. Then there are the languid close shots of each man in repose, contemplating art, love, creativity, and melancholy. Many of these shots contain no dialogue; they are juxtaposed with beautifully-framed montages of a vanished milieu. We mourn the loss of Mr. Saint Laurent in the way that people in his youth mourned the loss of Christian Dior, his mentor. There is nostalgia, not just for a particular and cultivated luxury and aesthetic taste, but also a nostalgia for beauty for beauty’s sake. Then, there is also the smooth gliding camerawork through the couple’s many homes, all art and objets d’art and books and tableaux of lovely little things. This is what I call the Proustian moments in the film, all refinement and aesthetic surety. Finally, there are the musings – on ephemerality, death, love, meaning, loss, reflection, faith, and the existence of the soul. You needn’t watch the whole film to realize that this is neither a fabulously-fab fashion documentary nor an exposé-cum-homage of the fashion industry. It is deeply personal, constrained, and told in that certain way. The director Pierre Thoretton makes a convincing case for the couple’s crazy loves: for art, for each other, and for beauty.
Pierre Bergé, who effectively and movingly narrates this fiction-feeling documentary, was Saint Laurent’s partner in life and love for fifty years. He places Saint Laurent and his work in context and in chronology; further, he condenses in this film all the things – good and bad – that came of their long investments in each other, in their art collection, in the integrity of Saint Laurent’s sanity and creativity. Mr. Bergé is in the difficult position of the art widow. All at once he is the mourner, curator of the legacy, and raconteur of the official story. His memory of places, people, years and incidents are so utterly clear and detailed, it doesn’t matter whether he remembers it correctly. The important thing is that he recreates for us, in this Proustian manner, the significance of Saint Laurent. The narration, with the direction, fills us with time, a sense of procession, and a taste of the little events which will signify greatly later.
L’Amour Fou. Dir. Pierre Thoretton. Les Films de Lendemain, et al, 2010. In French.