For those of us still mourning the loss of Yves Saint Laurent—who entered into a civil union with his ex-lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé, just days before he died—this doc on the enduring romance between Christopher Isherwood and his boyfriend of 34 years, the painter Don Bachardy, provides a glimmer of another great gay romance. Scandalously, the famous author of The Berlin Stories was 49 when he met 18-year-old Bachardy on a beach in Malibu. “Chris knew exactly what to do with me,” Bachardy boasts at the film’s beginning, a sentiment echoed by talking heads Leslie Caron and John Boorman.
But the question, not fully explored in the doc, becomes how much Isherwood molded his young lover versus how much Bachardy wished to be shaped. Their mirroring was so extreme that Bachardy, a native Angeleno, started speaking like the British Isherwood (imagine Katharine Hepburn’s delivery in Suddenly, Last Summer) within the first year of their relationship. The two men also began to refer to themselves using animal personae—“Kitty” for Don and “Dobbin” the horse for Chris—which the film cloyingly renders as animated figures. The editor of Isherwood’s Diaries notes that they reveal “just how bad and how good a relationship can be.” But Chris & Don opts too often for the cute over the wrenching.