‘L’Amour fou’: The dissolution of a marriage of sorts

When director Pierre Thoretton entitled his documentary about Yves Saint Laurent and his life partner Pierre Bergé “L’Amour Fou” there was pricey cultural baggage attached. This French film with English subtitles is a pensive examination of a long-term relationship having ended and opens 20 May 2011 in Pasadena at the Pasadena Playhouse 7.

“L’Amour Fou” can be translated as “crazy love” or “mad love.” French director Jacques Rivette made a 1969 movie by that title. Rivette’s movie followed the dissolution of a marriage between an actress named Claire and her director. The film won a British Film Institute Award (Sutherland Trophy).

Yet the title goes back even further, at least for art historians. Surrealist André Breton also used the phrase as the title of  his 1937 autobiographical book.

For Americans with cable and a fancy for mob violence, “Amour Fou” was also the title of the 38th episode of the HBO series “The Sopranos” which looks at the relationship between Tony and Gloria as described by Dr. Melfi.

Thoretton’s  movie “L’Amour Fou” is about art and style and lifestyle.

In this documentary, we see archival footage of Saint Laurent, starting with the announcement of his retirement in 2002. Then we consider how his amazing career started. Like Rivette’s film, this documentary is also about the dissolution of a marriage–both emotional when Bergé and Saint Laurent lived apart and then physical, when Saint Laurent died, leaving Bergé a widower.

Yves Saint-Laurent was a French designer who was born in Oran, Algeria and moved to Paris, becoming Christian Dior’s assistant at age 17. At 21, Saint Laurent became Dior’s successor when Dior died of a heart attack at age 52 in 1957. At the funeral, Saint Laurent met Bergé.

When Saint Laurent had few disastrous collection that were met with displeasure by the fashion police, he was dumped by the House of Dior and conscripted into the French army. Saint Laurent would sue the House of Dior for breach of contract and win. Aided by financing from American millionaire J. Mack Robinson, Saint Laurent and Bergé started their own fashion house.

Even when their romance was strained and the two separated in 1976, they remained friends and business partners. Saint Laurent experimented with drugs (cocaine) and drank heavily in the 1960s and 1970s. That must have taken its toll on their lives together.

During the last seventies, they did buy a house together which became a retreat for Saint Laurent where he could seclude himself to read Proust.  Saint Laurent wouldn’t detox until 1990.

Saint Laurent died of brain cancer in 2008.  He had just entered a same-sex civil union (“pacte civil de solidarité”) with Bergé.

At his funeral, Bergé said, “I remember your first collection under your name and the tears at the end. Then the years passed. Oh, how they passed quickly. The divorce was inevitable but the love never stopped.”

In 2009, Bergé auctioned off 733 items of art and sculpture that the two had collected through Christie’s.

Bergé emerges as a sensitive man, one who provide stability for Saint Laurent who was seduced by drugs and the jet set lifestyle. Of the auction, he commented, “I will be present at my collection’s funeral, it’s the will to control everything until the end. And I’m selling because it was an entirely mixed oeuvre, composed of blended tastes. So now, you’ll understand that it no longer means anything. The works will fly away like birds, and find some place to perch. I find that to be beautiful.”

Pasadena Playhouse 7: 1:55pm  4:40pm  7:30pm  9:55pm

PLAYHOUSE 7 05.20.11
TOWN CENTER 5 05.20.11

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