Pierre Thoretton’s L’Amour Fou, not to be confused with the Rivette film of the same name, is a consummately clear-headed documentary that honors the allure of its subject by being personal but never intimately so. L’Amour Fou, Thoretton’s directorial debut, uses the posthumous auction of Yves Saint Laurent and business partner and lover Pierre Bergé’s enormous art collection as a very basic lens through which to view Saint Laurent’s life as an enigma.
Bergé supplies L’Amour Fou with its backbone. He explains through a series of unsentimental talking-head interview segments how Saint Laurent’s life was never the life people thought it was. The scandalous drug abuse and partying that people associated with his social life outside of creating haute couture and later prêt-à-porter dresses didn’t represent the real Saint Laurent. Instead, Bergé’s Saint Laurent was a workaholic that invested his life in collecting a multitude of objets d’art, a term that in his life encompassed everything from dachas to sculptures.
That image of the artist consumed by his own need to amass more ideas, more work, more beauty is inherently seductive and mysterious. It also creates an aesthetic paradox: How does one simultaneously respect and detach oneself from the beauty of distant artworks that contain a collector’s soul? Thoretton selectively accesses Saint Laurent’s hedonism completely through sinuous tracking shots of Saint Laurent’s various residences. He’s obviously in awe of these incredible things that have, since Saint Laurent’s death, become repositories for his personality. Thorreton accordingly gives equal weight to rare footage of a young and deceptively carefree Saint Laurent as well as mountains of photographs of the man at work.
Together, these two kinds of archival material conspire to create a portrait of Saint Laurent as a living ghost. Thoretton embraces the limits of his resources, knowing full well that there should still be a definitive kind of detachment enveloping Saint Laurent’s personality. As a result, L’Amour Fou is an attractive and consummately intriguing documentary that thankfully never feigns proximity with its elusive subject.