Yves Saint Laurent had quite a life. At 21 years old he succeeded Christian Dior as the lead designer for the House of Dior. Which all sounds a bit trivial, doesn't it? But perhaps you don't know about the french and their fashion. They take it VERY seriously. Dior's death in 1957 at the age of 52 was a national tragedy. Normal people, not just fashion enthusiasts, weeped in mourning. Thing is, fashion is beyond clothes; it's fine art. And for France, fashion is one of its finest achievements and most robust exports. It's a point of pride, and that's only one of the lessons learned in the newest documentary about his life, and the life he shared with his lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé. This film is primarily about Bergé and his sale of their collected art works after Laurent's death in 2008. And what a collection it was.
There's a lot to enjoy here. First, not only is Bergé an amazing interview subject, but he was also there with Laurent through the darkest of times. Only fitting, then, that they met at Dior's funeral. Mr. Laurent successfully led Dior for a few years before mandatory military service got the better of him. He didn't last, and what happened to him as he got dismissed from his military service was a source of pain and darkness for the designer for the rest of his life. He was tortured, basically, electroshocked and fired from Dior. Somehow, in that moment with Bergé by his side, Laurent decided to launch his own eponymous couture house. Good thing, too, because his line and his fashion would go on to be groundbreaking, inspiring and unbelievably successful.
It was the success that allowed Bergé and Laurent to purchase multiple homes, as much art as their hearts desired, and beautiful, beautiful things to populate those gorgeous houses in Morocco and Normandy. In fact, it's the slow panoramic tours of these houses, accompanied by a subtly superb original score by Côme Aguiar, that truly take the viewer captive. You cannot help but try to take in every nook and cranny of their amazing estates with awe and amazement. Perhaps the emphasis on these breathtaking interiors is meant to show how truly damaged Laurent was. He was depressed, he drank, and he was miserable except for those two moments a year when he was met with standing ovations after his collections walked the runway. In this regard, he wasn't unlike the countless other fine artists who drove themselves mad with the pursuit of actualizing beauty.
Laurent was a ferocious consumer of art forms of all kind: he admired Proust emphatically, he idolized Mondrian and was friends with Warhol, he sought solace in books and cherished his art objects almost to a fault. However, the collection lost its meaning after his death. The Bergé-initiated auction of their massive collection netted hundreds and hundreds of millions. Proceeds are said to go to a new AIDS-related organization. One of the most rewarding aspects of this film is how deftly, tastefully and profoundly Bergé and Laurent's love is treated. In fact, their love was so casually accepted and acknowledged in France, over the past fifty years, that Laurent's brilliance overshadowed the fact that he was gay. Imagining an American cultural treasure akin to Laurent, whose homosexuality would've paved the way for decades of acceptance, is hard (if not impossible) to imagine. While the possibilities of art, love, and politics are appropriately addressed in this film, it's also an ecstatic visual experience. The beauty is extraordinary.