When Yves Saint Laurent was still alive, he would send friends a New Year’s card of his own design every year incorporating the word “Love.”
A new documentary delves into exactly what that notion represented to the designer and his partner of 50 years, Pierre Bergé.
In “L’Amour Fou,” which will receive its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival Saturday, director Pierre Thoretton succeeds in painting the most intimate portrait yet of the legendary couturier, who died two years ago at age 71.
The filmmaker only met Saint Laurent fleetingly, but said he was deeply impressed by his aura. “You got a measure of the man’s grandeur in his presence — it was physical,” Thoretton recalls. “The few times I crossed paths with him, I was virtually dumbstruck.”
A former artist making his first foray into documentary, Thoretton initially wanted to focus on the couple’s homes. He wrote a script but quickly realized the story lay not in the interiors Saint Laurent and Bergé had created, but in their enduring relationship.
“I have never met a couple that has stuck together for 50 years, through the ups and downs, and I thought it was simply extraordinary,” he says. “Their love was unconditional. I have never seen anything like it and it still blows me away.”
The success of the film rests mainly on Thoretton’s friendship with Bergé, whom he had met in the Nineties through his then-mother-in-law Catherine Deneuve, a longtime Saint Laurent muse (he has a son, Milo, with Deneuve’s daughter, the actress Chiara Mastroianni). But getting intimate with the notoriously outspoken businessman still turned out to be a prickly process.
“He turns the tables on you very quickly, and you end up feeling like you are interviewing for a job with a major firm,” the director recalls. “We even have rushes that show him getting up at one point and asking: ‘What the hell are these stupid questions?’ ”
Still, Bergé granted the director nine hours’ worth of candid interviews during preparations for last year’s auction of the vast art collection he amassed with Saint Laurent, in what has been dubbed the “sale of the century.”
“It proved an incredibly powerful guiding theme, since Pierre Bergé was not organizing that sale for the money. As he saw it, a major part of his existence was vanishing,” says Thoretton.
Woven throughout is rare archive material, including grainy black-and-white footage of Saint Laurent with Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and intriguing setup shots that cast Bergé as a lonesome character from an existential novel.
Thoretton also delves into Saint Laurent’s dark side, including his addiction to drugs and alcohol, but says he was determined not to sensationalize his subject. Featured interviews are limited mainly to Bergé and Saint Laurent’s closest friends, Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux.
“I could have made a kind of glittery celebrity-filled movie, but I didn’t think it was right,” he says, adding, “Voyeurism is not my thing, and I didn’t want to make a tearjerker by showing unhappiness. It is absolutely possible to be moved by happiness and how hard it is to be happy, because that is what gets to me: the way they went back at it a hundred times over and kept working at their love story.”