It’s fitting that L’Amour Fou, Pierre Thoretton’s portrait of designer Yves Saint-Laurent—particularly focusing on his 50-year romance with Pierre Bergé—begins with Saint-Laurent’s dignified farewell to the fashion industry, since the movie mainly serves as a fond valedictory. Framed by Berger’s preparation for a massive auction of the couple’s copious belongings, the film bids goodbye to its subject piece by piece, but the pieces don’t always come together. The pair met as Saint-Laurent was assuming the mantle of the late Christian Dior, with (judging by this account) the fate of the fashion world resting on his slim shoulders. In retrospect, his ascension is a fait accompli, and the backward-looking approach doesn’t bring the drama of that moment to life. Archival footage crammed with famous hangers-on (Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Jean Cocteau) brings some sense of those days to life, but for the most part, watching L’Amour Fou is like listening to someone reminisce about the good old days; it’s intriguing, but viewers can be forgiven for checking their watches.
The notion of a gay relationship stretching back half a century is a heady one, and it’s a shame the film doesn’t delve into the particulars of how Saint-Laurent and Bergé maintained an apparently open partnership without drawing unwanted notice. Or perhaps they drew notice, and Thoretton chooses not to share it. Whatever the case, politics doesn’t enter the picture until Bergé becomes involved with the AIDS-related activism of the 1980s. The missed opportunities are almost too many to mention.
L’Amour Fou is a beautiful love story, shot with evident love for its subjects. But though it details Saint-Laurent’s public excesses and the strain it placed on his relationship with Bergé, his lifelong partner keeps any demons that drove him secret, which is an honorable but undramatic choice. Like a well-crafted garment, it’s seamless. There’s plenty of amour, but not enough fou.