As engrossing as it is maddening, Pierre Thoretton's doc on the sale of Yves Saint Laurent's extensive art collection is perched somewhere between a sanded-edged official portrait and a keen examination of affluence run amok. The primary interviewee is the late fashion designer's romantic partner and business associate, Pierre Berg, who speaks about Saint Laurent's drug- and depression-addled life, as well as the couple's numerous objets d'art. Works by Degas and Mondrian found homes next to baubles purchased from boutiques in France and Morocco (Saint Laurent and Berg maintained houses in both countries). Now everything is off to the Christie's auction block, which prompts Berg to reminisce.
His memories are simultaneously candid and evasive; it's no coincidence that Saint Laurent's favorite author, Marcel Proust, is invoked, as we always seem to be viewing the subject through the selective, vaporous veil of memory. Berg superficially recalls challenging times, like his partner's devastating bouts with alcoholism. Yet the slow tracking shots and degraded archival footage often imply more complicated, perhaps impenetrable, depths of experience---or emptiness. When the auction finally rolls around and the take obscenely skyrockets into the hundreds of millions of euros simply by the objects' association with their owner, Saint Laurent seems more mystifying yet. In spite of his death, he's able to imbue anything (a first-rate masterpiece, a secondhand trinket, even Berg) with some indescribably talismanic essence. Yet he himself remains an enigma---the great and powerful Oz with no man behind the curtain. In this case, the vagueness is a virtue, leaving us free to ponder the film's larger point about the values we assign to the people, places and things amassed over a lifetime.
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