By Bill Wine

KYW Newsradio 1060

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – He was the 20th century’s leading fashion designer, a maverick whose fashion empire was huge and his YSL logo ubiquitous.

He was Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) and he’s the focus of L’Amour Fou, a stately, sketchy, detached and discreet documentary that reveals much of his public life and a little of his private life, trying to be as extravagant but also as elegant as its subject.

His life and business partner, Pierre Berge, serves as the primary interviewee and virtual narrator of this nothing-lasts-forever look back at a life lived large.

L’Amour Fou, which can be translated as Mad Love, looks not only at Saint Laurent’s fashion collections, but also his other collections — of art, for example, and real estate — as well as his lavish lifestyle.

It traces his career rise (he succeeded Christian Dior as the chief designer for the House of Dior, championed ready-to-wear fashion and celebrated his heyday in the ’60s and ’70s) and explores his struggles through the years with depression and alcohol and drugs.

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Photographer-turned-director Pierre Thoretton mixes talking-head interviews with archival actuality footage from his shows, mixes in the occasional celebrity appearance (Andy Warhol, Catherine Deneuve, Mick Jagger), and lets his camera roam through rooms in houses owned by Saint Laurent that are stuffed with treasures: paintings, sculptures, vases and furniture that dazzle the eye.  But his dry style makes the film’s title seem a misnomer.

As a framing device, the director uses the 2009 auction of the amazing art collection amassed by Saint Laurent and Berge over the years, a yard sale on steroids — touted at the time as the auction of the century — that brought in $480-million that was headed for an AIDS charity.  But even as we marvel at the items being sold for huge sums, we are still aware that they represent the cherished person who obtained them, who is no longer there to see what’s now missing.  It’s a strangely moving, maybe even haunting, perception.

As is the truism that, as YSL’s deepening depression surely indicated, possessions and achievements can only do so much to alleviate the psychic pain.  As Berge reveals at one point, Saint Laurent was only happy twice a year: on the days when his new collection was shown, and that joy would evaporate within 24 hours.

As the film, intimate but not exactly revealing, comes to a close, we wish that director Thoretton had dug deeper and made the person who was Saint Laurent come out more vividly and completely from behind the objects he owned, the accomplishments he accrued and even the relationships he participated in.  But because the director maintains such a respectful distance from his subject, Saint Laurent pretty much remains an enigma.  Nevertheless, we find the tour fascinating.

So we’ll design 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for L’Amour Fou, a well-fashioned documentary with a little less fou than we would have liked, but enough amour to do its subject justice.

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