From his "trapeze," an A-line dress that moved like a celestial swing, to his sleek women's pantsuit that feminized men's style, Yves Saint Laurent was a singular talent who transformed 20th-century fashion.
L'Amour Fou (Mad Love), an unfocused snapshot of YSL as seen through the bereaved eyes of Pierre Bergé, his longtime lover and business partner, regards the late couturier (1936-2008) less in terms of his fashion collections than in those of his art and real estate.
YSL's accumulations of European modernism (Ensor, Leger, Matisse, Mondrian) and breathtaking properties (the villas, at least two of them, in Morocco, the dacha in Normandy, the Paris apartment on rue de Babylone) are jaw-dropping, fantastic, sublime.
But to suggest, as this oblique film does, that you are what you collect is like looking at Picasso's art collection without correlating it to his own works. I wanted to know how, apart from Mondrian's geometric canvases' influencing YSL's Mondrian dress, what Saint Laurent collected influenced his creations.
In talking-head interviews and in the eulogy he gave for his partner at YSL's funeral, Bergé drops some juicy biographical tidbits that speak to the designer's state of mind (chronically depressed) but not to his creative brilliance.
At 21, the Algerian-born Saint Laurent succeeded Christian Dior as chief designer of that couture house and began living with Bergé, generally described as an industrialist. The designer was inducted into the army in the early '60s, and suffered a mental breakdown. Bergé says that Saint Laurent was "born depressed" and that he linked his later rough patches with drug treatment he was given by army doctors.
Until 1976, the pair openly lived together in a relationship much like that of patron and artist. Bergé furnished the professional structure and Saint Laurent the creative vision. Then, Saint Laurent "discovered alcohol and drugs." The romance ended, but the professional relationship and the love endured.
While Pierre Thoretton's film boasts vivid archival footage of some YSL couture collections, Bergé's lugubrious tone renders everything black. He talks about how attached Saint Laurent was to his possessions. To move one, Bergé recalls, was to leave a "black hole." One gets the sense that the paintings and houses were the children of the Bergé/Saint Laurent union.
The film is bracketed by funerals, Saint Laurent's and that of his possessions. At movie's end, all the paintings and statuary and art deco furniture are packed in coffinlike crates and consigned to auction at Sotheby's, where they fetch nearly a half-billion dollars. Then this hazy film comes into focus. It's about Bergé saying goodbye to his love and then to their inanimate family.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.