Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tribeca ’11: L’Amour Fou

In Olivier Assayas’s wistful and sophisticated Summer Hours, a family reluctantly sells off their late father’s remarkable collection to pay the punishing French estate taxes. At times it is a difficult process, because every object has a special significance. Such would seem to be the case with the Saint Laurent-Bergé collection. After the death of his famous designer lover, Pierre Bergé decided to auction off the extraordinary art and decorative objects they had amassed together. Unfortunately, Pierre Thoretton forgets his own hook in the disappointingly run of the mill documentary profile L’Amour Fou (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

L’Amour starts with archival footage of Yves Saint Laurent’s 2002 retirement speech, which might have been an epochal event in fashion history, but often sounds maddeningly circuitous to philistine ears. We then watch as Bergé starts preparing for the so-called “auction of the century.” Yet despite serving as the film’s framing device, Thoretton shows little interest in the individual items in the collection and what they might represent. Surely, every piece has a story, but we never hear, aside from the occasional offhand comment. Instead, Thoretton concentrates on Saint Laurent’s life story.

Of course, this is a perfectly respectable, if conventional approach, to his subject. However, YSL’s life simply does not hold a lot of surprises, at least as chronicled by Thoretton, relying heavily on Bergé’s reminiscences. Through hard work, he was able to make a name for himself as young man. Over the years, he and Bergé maintained a close relationship, despite the couturier’s partying and infidelities. Though he was a spectacular success, he was periodically plagued with bouts of depression, yet persevered until he sensed it was time to bow out gracefully. Frankly, viewers might have guessed as much, even if they do not follow the fashion world.

When the collection starts selling at auction, it is clearly supposed to L’Amour’s big finish. Yet, since we know next to nothing about the individual pieces or how they were acquired, the process ultimately means little to viewers. These are not Matisses and Brancusis the unsentimental Bergé is selling, they are widgets with lot numbers.

For those looking for a general film biography of YSL, L’Amour generally fits the bill. Thoretton clearly had intimate access to Bergé, easily the most important figure in the designer’s life. Though there is nothing objectionable in the film, there hardly seems to be a pressing need for it, given David Teboul’s generally well-received documentaries covered much the same ground, only missing his final four or five post-retirement years. Very much a straight off the rack film, L’Amour screens at Tribeca this coming Tuesday (4/26), Thursday (4/28), and Friday (4/29).