Friday, May 27, 2011

L'Amour Fou shows St. Laurent as intellectual

Okay, so now it kind of makes sense. Pierre Thoretton, director of the new documentary about the great fashion designer Yves St. Laurent, was a visual artist before he set his sights on film.
 L’Amour Fou (which opens today at Landmark’s Maple theatre) in fact is Thoretton’s first documentary. And it’s a good one. But what comes across in L’Amour Fou more than anything else – more than St. Laurent’s ideas on fashion, more than St. Laurent’s love for his companion and business partner Pierre Bergé – is the vast, sumptuous and extraordinary collection of art that the couturier amassed between the 1950s and his death in 2008.
 The collection in fact surely must be one of the greatest private collections of recent times - and the film spends an extended period dwelling on it. The collection in fact forms the backdrop of perhaps most of the movie’s scenes and is the framework (excuse the pun) that holds the movie together.
 For example, among the film’s opening scenes are those at St. Laurent and Bergé’s homes in rooms surrounded by paintings and sculptures by Picasso, Goya, Brancusi, Degas, and Mondrian. Bergé, in the aftermath of St. Laurent’s death from brain cancer, says the art will have to be removed, giving a real sense that our most cherished possessions only can be temporary.
 Throughout the film the director keeps returning to the abundant art whether at the couple’s two Paris homes, their villa in Marrakech, or chateau in Normandy. We see crews increasingly taking it down and packing it up.
When it’s not focussing on the art the film does make an attempt to chronicle St. Laurent’s evolution from assistant at Christian Dior fashion house in the 1950s to his and Bergé forming their own house. Then of course there is St. Laurent’s stunning success through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
 But again the film returns to the art, at last ending with its vast auction by Christie’s at Paris’s Grand Palais, a sale for the ages.
 There’s nothing wrong with so much attention on the art collection. But this is a documentary first and foremost about St. Laurent as fashion iconoclast. Therefore the movie should present more detail about what drove his philosophy, indeed his attitude towards women that seemed to be at the centre of it.
 Instead we get snippets. For example, St. Laurent wanted to get women out of restrictive clothing. “When people are comfortable in their clothes they are more happy,” he tells an English interviewer. St. Laurent also introduced pant suits including the famous Le Smoking tuxedo saying they allowed women to “assert” themselves. And he introduced ready-to-wear or prêt-à-porter clothing. But the film doesn’t have more to say.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about this documentary.
You can probably even hate fashion and enjoy it. After all, the film is about a couple of intellectuals - St. Laurent and Bergé – who were also devotees of literature and philosophy, to the point of naming every room in their Normandy chateau after a Proust character.
The piano music score by Côme Aguiar is beautifully poignant.
L’Amour Fou captures something of the history of France over the past 50 years, from the May 1968 riots to the rise of the country’s first Socialist President Francois Mitterrand (whom St. Laurent endorsed), to the influence of the Third World on contemporary fashion and 1980s’ gay culture.
It shows that St. Laurent was very much of his time.

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