'Celebration': Film Review

Celebration -Still 1 -  Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of KimStim
A haunting look at the final creative years of a fashion genius.

Olivier Meyrou's long-shelved film presents a fly-on-the-wall portrait of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner and former lover Pierre Bergé.

It's taken a long time for Olivier Meyrou's documentary about Yves Saint Laurent to see the light of day. Filmed between 1998 and 2001, Celebration presents a fly-on-the-wall portrait of the famed fashion designer and his business partner and former lover Pierre Bergé. Neither man comes off well. Although he would live another seven years, Saint Laurent seems almost at death's door, physically frail and emotionally fragile. Bergé, on the other hand, seems such a domineering, obnoxious figure that it's not surprising that he ordered the film shelved after its single screening at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. His death two years ago freed up the rights, and now Celebration is receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at NYC's Film Forum.

The documentary has an elegiac quality, exemplified by such moments as when some of Saint Laurent's former employees revisit the empty office of the design firm after its closing. There's also an interview with the designer, conducted by a French journalist who unfortunately seems unable to control her incessant coughing.

"It goes fast," Saint Laurent says mournfully, his voice barely above a whisper. "I'm the last couture house with a living couturier." He also claims that he recently altered his approach to his profession. "I decided to be happy, and work with joy," Saint Laurent says unconvincingly.

The film revolves around the preparations for what would turn out to be Saint Laurent's final solo collection; the company, founded in 1961 by Saint Laurent and Bergé, was purchased by Gucci in 1999. Despite its title, there's little celebratory about what goes on, although Saint Laurent does receive an award (which is practically ripped out of his hands afterwards by Bergé, who says, "Probably, I have a part of that").  One scene, featuring famed model Katoucha Niane trying on a particularly outlandish creation, becomes all the more haunting by the (unmentioned) fact that she accidentally drowned in the Seine River in 2008.

At one point tellingly seen lurking in the background, his arms firmly planted on his hips while Saint Laurent is talking, Bergé emerges as the figure who keeps the business operating while Saint Laurent, plagued by fear and anxiety, agonizes over his creations. Bergé's professional competence, however, is frequently overshadowed by his boorishness. He's shown throwing a temper tantrum when photographers show up unexpectedly at an event, and angrily criticizing the placement of a gold capstone on the Luxor Obelisk in the Place de Concorde that the company had underwritten.

Hovering over Saint Laurent as he rehearses a speech while standing behind a podium, Bergé brusquely instructs him, "Don't lean over like a doddering old man!" Later, while speaking to an associate, he compares the designer to "a sleepwalker who shouldn't be woken."

Filming in both black-and-white and color, Meyrou somehow manages to capture an array of these and other amazingly candid moments. Those unfamiliar with the subject matter would be well advised to do some research before seeing the doc, as it lacks narration or practically any sort of contextual information. Celebration ultimately resembles more of a snapshot than a fleshed-out portrait, but it's one that's likely to linger in your memory for a long time afterwards.

Production company: Hold-Up Films
Distributor: KimStim
Director: Olivier Meyrou
Producers: Benedicte Couvreur, Christopher Girard
Directors of photography: Jean-Marc Bouzou, Florian Bouchet
Editors: Cathie Dambel, Amrita David
Composer: Francois-Euydes Chanfraut

74 minutes