L’amour fou: They Bought a Shitload of Stuff
Watching L’amour fou, the documentary about the art auction conducted by Pierre Bergé after the death of his partner of 50 years, Yves Saint Laurent, is a little less inspiring than watching Herb & Dorothy, the 2009 documentary that’s also about art collecting (and then unloading late in life). But I’ll get to the reasons why in a minute, because first I want to praise this movie for what it gets excellently right:
1. You get to see a tiny amount of very intimate, loving footage related to the relationship between YSL and Bergé. Bergé’s eulogy for his deceased husband is as moving a moment as you’ll see in theaters this year. And, earlier, some vintage one-on-one conversation footage where YSL playfully tells his man that he enjoys male “body hair” and that he wants to live in “a large bed, a full one,” should clear up any clueless viewer’s ideas about them being strictly business associates. Bergé was YSL’s daddy bear.
Left: Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Right: one of YSL’s Mondrian-inspired dresses.
2. Bergé is not the kind of guy to waste time mourning the past. His clear-eyed approach to the dismantling of the couple’s astonishingly large art, furniture and rare object collection is a study in not being attached to things when it’s time for them to exit your life. Besides, he had plenty of time to mourn while YSL was alive and trying to simultaneously drown himself in booze and snort up all the cocaine on the planet. During that time Bergé stood by and took care of his clinically depressed, sickened, addict partner and kept all the paperwork in order so that YSL could design clothes and then hermit himself in a private room, put on a caftan and inhale a small pyramid of blow.
3. You get to see a healthy amount of Loulou de La Falaise and Betty Catroux, YSL’s muses. One light and warm (de la Falaise), one dark and swaddled in black leather (Catroux), they are cool injections of French womanhood into YSL’s insular gayness. Catroux, especially, is like something a writer would invent, never without her sunglasses, even at night.
Loulou de La Falaise and Betty Catroux
4. Their lives were an orgy of luxury and shopping. They bought houses, art and more houses and more art. “One fine day a Mondrian came into our lives,” says Bergé, like it flew into their window and decided it was happiest living next to that Picasso over the fireplace. And then, when it was done, Bergé sent it to the auction house, a place he describes as “the undertakers of art.”
6. This sort of thing:
And if, in the end, it’s all a little less inspiring than Herb & Dorothy, it’s because of that wealth. Extreme capitalism, even when it’s predicated on the work of a design visionary like Yves Saint Laurent and subsequently used in the service of building an awesome art collection, is sort of automatically less interesting than going on a journey with two extremely ordinary, working class collectors like Herb and Dorothy Vogel, whose lives revolved around living on her librarian’s salary and amassing crazy amounts of conceptual and minimalist pieces (when no one else wanted them) on his postal worker’s income. It’s easy to see a Brâncusi and say, “I’ll take it,” when you’re swimming in cash, or getting a Warhol piece for free because you hang out with him and he decides to photograph you. It’s way more dangerous to risk your retirement savings on work you love just because you love it, become Christo’s cat-sitter and then later donate all of it to various museums without asking for anything in return.
But again, this isn’t meant to harsh on these guys. YSL backed up his decadence with a legacy of his own amazing art worn by fancy ladies the world over. The planet needs people like him, people who live their lives exactly as they please. And if that life involves getting high with Mick Jagger and flying around France in your own private helicopter and asking Betty Catroux what she wants for dinner and she says, “Cigarettes,” then that’s cool, too.