L'Amour Fou

L'Amour Fou

Yves Saint Laurent in the garden of the villa Majorelle in Marrakech. Photo by JC Deutsch. From Pierre Thoretton's L'AMOUR FOU. A Sundance Selects release.

L'Amour Fou (2010/2011)

Opened: 05/13/2011 Limited

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Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated


In 1958, the young French-Algerian couturier Yves Saint Laurent met and fell in love with the industrialist and patron Pierre Berge, forging a relationship that would endure fifty years of extraordinary success, emotional turbulence and lingering devotion.

In 2008, following the death of Saint Laurent, Berge decided to auction off the art collection that was the result of their decades-spanning union, spread across three lavish homes, inside of which both men exercised a mutual passion for beauty -- in objects, places, people, and, above all, through their personal and professional union.

From art deco vases and African sculptures to singular pieces by Brancusi, Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse and Braque, the collection that symbolized this couple's ceaseless devotion to beauty is at once catalogued, crated up and auctioned off by Christie's in London, while Berge reflects and ruminates upon the collection that came together slowly, almost by chance -- and the romance that was love at first sight from the moment the duo met at Christian Dior's funeral in 1957.

How does one walk away from so much beauty cultivated over time? Is such a thing possible? Do we shape the things that surround us, or do those things shape us?

With a Proustian flair for memory and sensation that dovetails remarkably with Saint Laurent's lifelong romantic sensibility, L'AMOUR FOU documents Berge's personal coming to terms with the death of his lifelong partner through the objects they shared in life.

L'Amour Fou

"I loved Yves from the first day I met him and it has lasted until the day he died, and I can tell you that even now as we speak I love him still." -- Pierre Berge

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge met for the first time in October 1957, at the funeral of the couturier Christian Dior. They met again on February 3, 1958 during a dinner organized by Marie-Louise Bosquet, several days after Saint Laurent's first collection for Dior was presented. Six months later, virtually inseparable, they were living together as a couple.

Saint Laurent experienced rapid success after he succeeded Christian Dior in the wake of the couture maverick's death. Journalists hailed a new prodigy in the fashion world, a meteoric talent: "We have never witnessed anything like this before," one reporter proclaimed.

Three years later, Saint Laurent was dismissed from the House of Dior, replaced and ultimately imprisoned in Val de Grace after he refused to perform his military service in Algeria. With Berge's assistance and support, the couple decides to create their own couture house based on Saint Laurent's own designs.

In 1961, Berge sold his apartment to pay rent on a two-room space on the rue Sportini in Paris. The couple moved into their new apartment on Place Vauban, domestic partners in life and work.

Saint Laurent's first collection was shown on January 29, 1962, and was hailed as an enormous success by members of the press and the fashion world. "We were expecting a collection by a young man, a rising star for tomorrow," wrote a journalist for ELLE Magazine. "Instead we saw a collection designed by a present-day master."

"From that moment on I controlled everything. I've often been criticized for controlling things too closely. I am what I am. But the person facing me was someone who wanted nothing less than to be controlled. Moreover, he made no secret about this. That's why Yves and I, as a couple, lasted so long." -- Pierre Berge

Saint Laurent and Berge became part of a whirlwind social life in culturally rich 1960s Paris, fraternizing with luminaries such as Jean Giono, Rene Crevel and Jean Cocteau, and Saint Laurent's muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise. As Saint Laurent's success built over time, he and Berge began building the art collection they would spend a lifetime assembling. Several key pieces were considered milestones, the cornerstone of what would become a serious collection: a mythical African Senoufo bird sculpture; two Dunand vases and the Brancusi sculpture that had stopped Berge in his tracks when he saw it at the Tarica Gallery in Paris. It was the first piece to be purchased together by Berge and Saint Laurent; they paid for it in installments.

"Yves' eye was more mental, more intellectual and dare I say more aesthetic than mine. Perhaps I was more attentive to the painter's work." -- Pierre Berge

As the '60s progressed, the couple's art collection grew slowly but substantially, in an almost disorderly fashion. Works were encountered by chance as Saint Laurent began incorporating motifs from the work of Picasso, Mondrian and Matisse into his couture designs, like the 1965 collection featuring the sparse linear details so familiar in Mondrian's paintings. A Matisse painting deeply influenced Saint Laurent's color range. Picasso's Nature morte au Tabouret (1914) enchanted the couturier for its composition, lending insight into his own predilection for the juxtaposition of objects that came to define the couple's expansive art collection. The art dealer Nicolas Kugel explains it thus: "When Yves came (to the gallery), he moved objects, bringing them together, establishing dialogues. He liked the proportion of one object in relation to another. His eye made me see objects in a new way, one that I had never seen before. This was an extraordinary experience."

"The most beautiful clothing that can dress a woman is the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven't had the chance of finding this happiness, I'm here!" -- Yves Saint Laurent in 1966.

As their art collection grew, so did the bond between Saint Laurent and Berge. The end of the '60s and the beginning of the '70s marked a golden age in the couple's love story -- and in Saint Laurent's designs. Berge was the director of the couture house and Saint Laurent created one sumptuous collection after another, combining avant-garde techniques with classical elegance, to the delight of the fashion world and beyond. Paris had erupted socially and politically during the events of 1968, but Saint Laurent and Berge focused on money, friends (including Catherine Deneuve, who became another Saint Laurent muse) and building a life together in Morocco, where they purchased the Dar Es Saada house and lived from 1968 to 1976. There, Yves in particular became enchanted with color -- it was in Marrakech that he first began experimenting with the color blocking that made him so famous, specific colors that were linked to the Moroccan city. Here he also explored notions of emancipation, sexual freedom, and living without restrictions, and began flirting with drugs and alcohol.

"It was a very pleasant and cosmopolitan life (in Morocco); people would come from everywhere. The Rolling Stones often came, and many others still. Yves was no longer the sad, pathologically introverted and shy young man of his debut. In the presence of close friends, he could prove to be whimsical, even happy." -- Pierre Berge

Saint Laurent friend and muse Lou Lou de la Falaise remembers their relationship as being rich and tempestuous, like the times they were living in. "I was 21 in 1968," she recalls, "And it was the first time I had ever met a couple that had been together for several years. They had already been together a long time, very passionately, with much drama and fuss. There were theatrics and tremendous scenes. It's an aspect of their relationship that charmed me enormously, in fact it was their relationship! Before I understood Yves' talent, it was their characters that fascinated me."

In the early '70s, Berge and Saint Laurent created the Rive-Gauche line, inventing the concept of pret-a-porter, or ready-to-wear, an entirely new way of showcasing and retailing fashion that revolutionized the business. But Saint Laurent's alcohol dependency and addiction to tranquilizers and drugs was becoming serious in 1975. Extraordinary business pressures and frenetic deadlines overshadowed the triumph and glory of his success on the runway. "The difference between a couturier and other artists is that other artists can, if they want to, stop, stand back and look," says Berge. "A couturier can't do that. He can't leave the stage."

"He designed his most beautiful collections (at the height of his '70s excess); He was overtaken by a sort of working frenzy." -- Loulou de la Falaise.

During this period Berge became something of a guardian angel to Saint Laurent, whose personal excesses became the stuff of legend inside close-knit Parisian high-fashion circles. As much as Berge tried to protect his lover, he could only accept Saint Laurent's increasing dependencies. "Either you give up, or you give in," Berge has said. "I gave in. I've never given up in my life. If I had abandoned Yves, or in more simple terms left him, I knew that it would have been quite fatal for him, and the couture house. If Yves became involved with drugs and alcohol, it's because he wanted to."

Friend and muse Betty Catroux describes Berge as the authority figure who brought structure to the relationship. "Pierre was indispensable, the most intelligent. He had the social graces, the thinking power. Without him, Yves would have been nothing. Success for him was on a daily basis. Yves knew he was the undisputed king, but he was permanently depressed. He would have hated to be well balanced. Glory was something he adored."

"I decided to live in his shadow from the very first day. So I'm not going to complain about being in his shadow, because the greater the size of the shadow, the greater the size of the tree. I helped Yves and I wanted him to be the biggest tree in the forest, which he was. And I'm not going to criticize him for overshadowing me; it never bothered me." -- Pierre Berge

In 1976, after ten years of living together, Berge and Saint Laurent decided to live separately, while still maintaining their bond. Berge moved into the Hotel Lutetia-- on the rue de Babylone, the same Left Bank street where the couple had been living for years. During this period the House of Saint Laurent expanded into fragrances, with the highly publicized, often controversial launches of Y and Opium. Between 1976 and 1982, sales of YSL haute couture nearly tripled, bringing in 31.6 million francs. Later, in 1987, Richard Salomon -- who owned YSL's fragrance division -- sold back his shares to Berge for $640 million.

During the late '70s, Berge obtained his pilot's license in order to take Saint Laurent away from the prying eyes of the French media. The couple, still living apart, reunited by purchasing the Dacha house in the woods of Issy- Les-Moulineaux as a retreat for the temptations of fame that weighed so heavily on Saint Laurent during this period. Instead, it became a place of great solitude for Saint Laurent, who had begun a sort of retreat into seclusion. He surrounded himself with paintings and books, opting to shut himself away for days on end reading Proust.

"The problem with Yves Saint Laurent was that he was a man who understood his time period better than anyone, but he didn't like it. Real artists live their own lives in parallel. It's the artist who transforms his times." -- Pierre Berge

In 1977, Saint Laurent's depression became as notorious as his couture house, though his creative force remained undiminished, in the form of increasingly romantic collections like The Spaniards and The Romantics, again reflecting the couple's rapidly expanding art collection housed in the rue de Babylone as well as in their homes in Marrakech and Issy-Les-Moulineaux. Saint-Laurent's depression would continue well into the '80s, when the financial success of the house had reached a fever pitch. Berge became an AIDS activist and political champion of French presidential candidate Francois Mitterand during this heady time, which saw Saint Laurent's condition deteriorate, often resulting in nervous breakdowns and hospitalizations in tony psychiatric facilities with best friend and co-hort Betty Catroux, who described their nocturnal pursuits during the '80s as a means of escaping reality: "We were entirely out of this world. At night, we went to bars and clubs. Above all, we were fleeing the daily grind. We were running away from life. Normal pleasures weren't for us."

In 1990, Saint Laurent went to a detoxification clinic. From that day on, his drug and alcohol consumption ceased entirely. He withdrew deeper into his craft, demonstrating a kind of work that Berge described as being closer to pure style than fashion -- a world, or business, that in his sobriety he had completely distanced himself from, allowing him to win the kind of respect that placed him at the very heights of his craft as an artist. This culminated in a 2002 runway show at Beaubourg in Paris which attracted 10,000 people from around the world. In the prior decade, the business of fashion had changed dramatically. "This trade has fallen into the hands of financiers," Berge famously quipped. "I have nothing against them. I know them. They are even my friends. But we don't have the same vision. Yves withdrew because for him this trade didn't mean anything anymore. It's a craft that has been handed over to moneymakers. It's certainly very good to be a moneymaker, but it's not the idea Yves had in mind, neither for himself, nor for his couture house."

Director's Statement

There was already a documentary about the couture house of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge but the producer Hugues Charbonneau and I thought that the life of these two men together would merit another film. Some footage was shot, some of which wound up in L'Amour Fou. I remembered a quote from Berge: "I would have liked to create a museum on whose facade was written 'Where does money come from? Where does money go?' In his museum there would have been designs by Yves Saint Laurent in addition to pieces from their famous art collection, in order to create a sort of dialogue around how the art illuminates the designs, and vice versa. How money from the fashion world circulates into the art world. This was a theme I was very much interested in. Meetings with art dealers commenced but it was the relationship between Saint Laurent and Berge that was often the centerpiece of these meetings. How they chose certain pieces together. There would have been no choices made by one without the other. And while they often visited galleries and dealers alone, when it came down to buying art, they did it together. It was their exclusive rapport that determined the collection as their success and wealth expanded. That's when I knew that I'd found my subject. I called Pierre Berge and told him the most interesting thing is your love story, and that's the theme of the movie I want to do.

Filming Begins

Pierre Berge has known everything: the battles, the successes, the inside stories that come from being on top of the world. But money and glory protects you from nothing. This was a man who had closed the eyes of someone he'd loved and lived with for fifty years. I didn't know of a similar union in my own life. In my family and group of friends, there was nobody who had spent that amount of time with another person. The story I wanted to tell was about this union between two men: what it consisted of, and how it managed to remain solid for so long. I was also interested in the work of Yves Saint Laurent, his relationship with art, and the poetry and literature that inspired his collections and the creation of Yves Saint Laurent the couture house. I saw this union between Saint Laurent and Berge as a kind of communal fantasy perhaps more durable than passionate love -- a mutual admiration expressing a desire in each of them to consistently surprise the other.

The Story

It seems strange when you make a documentary that you must also write a screenplay, or story. I needed to invent certain things that I didn't yet know were going to take place. I like this quasi-divine aspect of filmmaking: to make a film, you must write it. I would be going to look for information on these two personalities known around the world and on the Internet, to do a sort of cut-and-paste exercise, which wouldn't have been uninteresting, considering the people in question. But that alone couldn't have constituted the film I wanted to make. I asked my assistant, Eve Guillou, to write the script for the film with me. I asked of her on several occasions What would you like for Pierre Berge to say here? We were imagining his replies, which we wrote down, but which were never used, of course, because they were pure fantasy. My questions to Pierre Berge were thus first of all inspired by his imaginary responses, then reoriented by his actual replies. It was a bit like directing actors! At the base of it there exists a screenplay and then the actors invent or propose variations on the story.

Interview Technique

Pierre Berge is a very busy man, someone extremely engaged in his life and surroundings. We had six interview sessions stretched out over four months. Having space between sessions created a rhythm that was beneficial to him because it gave him ample time to be comfortable with what he said and correct himself if necessary on certain responses that might have nagged at him after a completed session. It was the same thing for me: there was time to rephrase certain questions according to responses he'd already given, or to workshop other questions, if you will, with my team.

Inscribing Their Times

Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent were public figures who lived intensely during the five decades they spent together. They felt the pressure of those times: drugs, alcohol, depression. How did those things happen to them? I felt the need to show the world around them, from the hearty applause and the sweet talk to the annoyances and incessant demands that created the tension that ultimately destroys.

Archival Footage

All of the unpacking that comes with any archival work is very important when there are so many documents at hand. I saw dozens of hours of existing footage with my principal editor, Dominique Auvray, in addition to some hundred thousand photographs, of which we eliminated many. Archives consist of so many witnesses presenting themselves on the stand. They don't only outline key moments, they propose their version of a certain story. Finally I could only consider them as supporting actors. We restored and refinished in black and white the scenes from Saint Laurent's farewell press conference that opens the film. It's every director's dream: to begin with his principal actor, photographed like a star, even though he's in the process of saying goodbye.

The Beauty of Things

I forced myself to be a "watcher" in terms of finding indications and traces of beauty. I don't consider myself a theoretician, simply a wanderer who wants to please himself. I want to be able to sit down on a riverbank, look at the world and invent my own brand of social science. Sometimes I'll pick up a book that has drawn me in in the past. I'll read a page at random, or reread the book from the beginning. When composing a sequence on film, I think you can wander in the same kind of fashion -- by not being tempted by the idea of putting things together, but simply being at peace with yourself. This, for me, is a kind of beauty.

Original Music

I wanted a score that evoked the melancholy of the past and at the same time the tension of the present moment. It's exactly what the piano score expresses: the melody played with the right hand is completely nostalgic, like a ritornello, where as the left hand hammers out the tempo a bit harder and keeps us rooted in reality, in the right now.

A Perfect Circle

In the film, Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent are presented as living inside something akin to a perfect circle. L'Amour Fou is structured according to a system of recurring circles, with music designed as a ritornello -- with an emphasis on returning. We are encircled by life and death and the possibility of continued existence through the mythical realm.

--Pierre Thoretton

Preceeding copy courtesy of IFC Films. All rights reserved.