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L’Amour Fou (2010) is directed by Pierre Thoretton and it is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival today, Thursday, April 28th at 2:30pm, and tomorrow, Friday, April 29th at 9:45pm.
When fashion impresario Yves Saint Laurent was once asked to name his favorite poet, he paused for a moment, smiled and spoke Pierre Bergé’s name in a soft tone. This “poet” was the designer’s devoted companion for over fifty years. He was also the #2 that ran the logistics of the Yves St. Laurent Couture House from day one in 1961 until its final bow in 2002. But it was probably his knack for finding the right word at the right time that enabled both their business and romance to last.
L’Amour Fou, a film documenting Bergé and Saint Laurent’s art collection as well as their relationship, is carried by Bergé’s silver tongue and poetic talent for storytelling. For most of the film, he reminisces about his deceased lover as footage of their various homes stuffed with art and faded photos of bygone eras rolls. Other friends chime in during shorter conversations, but his presence is the most magnetic. At its weakest points, the interviews and voice-over montages make the movie feel like an extended 60 Minutes segment. But at its strongest moments, usually when the camera lingers and allows Bergé’s stories to unfold uninterrupted, the viewer is filled with that precious excitement of sitting at a bar on a slow night listening to an old man’s riveting stories.
From their earliest days, the couple shared a profound relationship with beauty and adventurously sought out fascinating things to look at. As Bergé recounts, the pair was once driving through Paris and Saint Laurent suddenly screamed stop, brought their car to a halt, and jumped out to buy some art deco vases that had caught his eye from a store window. They purchased a home in Morocco and would cruise in their car for hours just to admire the rich reds and yellows of the surrounding hills.
Their art collection was an accumulation of objects that, like the vases, they suddenly fell in love with. Bergé spoke of their art collection as a serious of memorable encounters and chance discoveries, and he enjoyed how it took them many years to build it up. There are plenty of slow tracking shots through sumptuous interiors that linger on the pair’s collections. The pace might lag for New Yorkers who tweet at the speed of light, but the point is to pause, breathe and enjoy the hodgepodge.
But despite their shared admiration for art, beauty played very different roles in the internal lives and psychological outlooks of these two men.
For Yves Saint Laurent, beauty was an escape valve. He was a shy man, disliked socializing, and did not light up in front of cameras. Bonding with friends over macabre commiseration and dark observations, his view of the world was jaded and jaundiced. He sought to escape into other worlds with more ravishing colors, more entrancing forms. Despite his introverted nature, his friends talked about how he paradoxically loved getting doped up and going out to disco clubs because of their sublime visuals and wild abandon of reality. Each of the art works in his collection appealed to the designer as a moment of escape.
For Pierre Bergé, beauty was the result of fastidious work. He was the man who made the trains run on time and managed all the business operations. Whereas Saint Laurent avoided social situations and preferred a few precious friends, Bergé valued social relationships as a huge game that he could masterfully win. For him, affording art was a sweet reward for all this bitterly hard work. He speaks of how when Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian clothing line hit in the 60s, they never imagined that one day it would be possible for them to own a Mondrian painting. These objects were his trophies, so he did not hesitate to liquidate them in an auction and seize on a lucrative marketing opportunity. (His name was featured prominently next to Christie’s in all branded materials.)
The clash of values between Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé energized their love and work. It made for a romance that was crazy yet long-lasting and powerful. Their different spheres are similar to the divide between “creative/editorial” and “business/development” in most artistic enterprises. And the fights between these two mentalities will always rage on. Nevertheless, this couple wisely understood and tenderly embraced that they needed each other to succeed.
L’Amour Fou (2010) is directed by Pierre Thoretton. As part of the Tribeca Film Festival, it will screen on Thursday, April 28th at 2:30pm as well as on Friday, April 29th at 9:45pm.