August 21 2014

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Saint Laurent And Bergé’s Amour Fou


There are no merry, over-the-top fashion moments of pugs and private planes in Pierre Thoretton’s L’Amour Fou, a documentary about the relationship between Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent. In fact, Thoretton’s film, which premieres tomorrow night at the Tribeca Film Festival, is quite the opposite of Matt Tyrnauer’s 2008 film The Last Emperor, on the often compared business and creative partnership of Giancarlo Giammetti and Valentino Garavani.

L’Amour Fou is slow, meditative, and a bit moody. It’s culled mainly from archival photographs and footage, silent and lingering shots of their various homes—including the Rue de Babylone apartment, the Chateau Gabriel in Normandy—and 20 hours of introspective and revealing interviews with Mr. Bergé. (Only 40 minutes into the film do you get another voice—in this case Saint Laurent confidantes Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, who recalls “theatrics and tremendous scenes.”)

But really Thoretton (left) tells their story through their objects and spaces, with an arc that follows Saint Laurent’s death and Bergé’s decision to auction their vast, exquisite collection. It runs from early visits from appraisers, whom Bergé dubs “the undertakers of art,” and builds up to the history-making three-day auction at the Grand Palais, which gives a marked quickening to Fou‘s pulse. caught up with the director on what it was like to make a movie with one of fashion’s most formidable characters as his star player.

How did you meet Pierre Bergé and end up making the film?
It’s sort of funny, but I met Pierre through my son’s grandmother Catherine Deneuve.

And then?
For about ten years we would see each other about once a week to have lunch. We talked about life. One day I suggested to him that I would like to make a film on his houses, the houses he had with Yves Saint Laurent and their collection. Then Yves Saint Laurent passed away, and I realized simultaneously that I was in the process of making a film that was beautiful but not interesting at all. The only really interesting thing was their love story.

How long did it take before you realized this?
It was about three and a half months. And then of course there was the death of Yves Saint Laurent. It was complicated, and then slowly Pierre accepted it and we started to do interviews related to the film.

What was Mr. Bergé’s initial reaction when the direction of the movie changed?
He was very touched, but most importantly he understood what I was trying to do. And he was surprised.

When you were interviewing Mr. Bergé, did you feel that you had to push him or was he ready to tell this story?
Well, he was fairly open, but the first interview started very badly because I felt I had to ask a series of questions and the questions were, for lack of a better word, somewhat stupid. When we started, after a few questions he got up, and as he was leaving he said, ‘If you’re going to ask me such stupid-ass questions, there’s no point.’ “

Wow. What were you asking him?
When we first started filming, we were in Morocco, in Marrakech. We were in the house, and I said, ‘So Morocco, the colors here are beautiful.’ I made comments like that.

How did you then change your line of questioning?
I threw out the first five pages of questions that I had wanted to ask.

Tell me a little bit about the process of going through the archives. You have some great footage and photographs in there.
The archival process was extremely interesting because I had access to archives that no one had ever seen. There was a hangar that was filled with boxes because from the day he had met Yves, he had known and felt that he was a genius. He had kept every single thing. I spent one year with a team of four people going through it.

I find it interesting, though, that you’re telling the story through their collection and their homes. How would you describe the role of these material things in the context of their relationship?
Well, actually it is a collection, but it’s the conglomeration of a series of objects that have been put together. But before these objects became a collection they were a part of their everyday life, individually part of their everyday life. Putting it together is something that they did together.

One thought that occurred to me during the film was that Pierre lived for Yves and Yves lived for beauty—his work and then these things around them. Pierre says if it was him who died, Yves wouldn’t have sold these things because he couldn’t live without this painting or that statue. Would you agree?
I think it’s absolutely true. Even when it came to, for instance, lending a painting that they had to a museum, Yves was so attached to the painting that he found it impossible to do so. And Pierre had actually photographed each painting in a very tight format and framed it in the exact identical frame to the one they had in their home so that he could put it up if they lent a painting to a museum.

Do you think Pierre ever sees himself as a martyr, or someone who has sacrificed?
Not at all. Not at all. He’s someone that loves someone, and he loves that part of it.

Bergé is very matter-of-fact and stoic while he’s speaking, but the only time he seems to get emotional is when he’s talking about Yves’ retirement. Is that true?
I don’t know if he’s stoic. I think he’s a man who’s seen a lot in his life. He’s 82. He faces things head on.

But when he talks about Saint Laurent’s retirement, he appears to get choked up. Did he?
Yes. You’re interpreting it correctly, and it’s normal because really it was their whole life that was wrapped in that.

The film has a very slow pace, but when you get to the auction, the cutting speeds up and it’s very electric. What was like to be at the Grand Palais on those days?
The auction was hallucinatory. I’ve never seen anything like it. I had never been exposed to an auction like it. I had never been exposed to those kinds of amounts that were traded for objects, or to the crowd and the people that were coming from all over the world. To give you an example, the airport of Le Bourget, which is the private airport, was completely blocked because there were so many people with private planes that were trying to get to Paris.

There’s a point where you cut to a shot of Pierre as these millions of euros are racking up and he looks like he’s suppressing the biggest smile in the world. How would you describe his mood on those days?
Like a child. Like a child who couldn’t believe his eyes.

How involved was Pierre while you were making the film? Did you show it to him during the editing process?
Never, never, never. That was one of the conditions I established in order to make the film, because otherwise it would have become much too complicated. He discovered the film completed at the Toronto Film Festival.

What does he think of it?
I was pretty scared. I was touched and bowled over because he said to me that he likes the film a lot, but he had learned things about himself and I said, “Which ones?” And he said, “They’re not very good ones and I’d rather not speak about them.”

Why did you decide to focus on Pierre and a very few people inside the YSL camp instead of doing interviews with other people who knew them?
There were no interviews that talked about their private life. They were only interviews that talked about fashion.

But what about other people?
There are a lot of people who were very interesting, but I wanted to be as close as possible to their personal life. Yes, I could have interviewed Deneuve or [Bianca] Jagger, but I felt that I needed to be as close to it myself as possible.

You knew Saint Laurent when he was alive. How were they when you saw them together?
They’re serious people. They were serious people. And very attentive. What was the most beautiful thing was the way that they looked at each other.

There’s a great quote from Pierre about the terrible pressure on designers to create their collections. Knowing what you do, what do you think of the recent news of John Galliano and Christophe Decarnin melting down and having problems with substance abuse, and even McQueen’s suicide last year?
In terms of Galliano, I think it explains things, but I don’t think it excuses anything. But they do live under incredible and terrible pressure.

Do you think every artistic genius should have a Pierre Bergé?
Well, in any case, it’s extremely lucky for whoever does have one.

Photos: Courtesy of Sundance Selects / IFC Films