NZIFF 51: Celebration, Directed by Olivier Meyrou

In 1998, French filmmaker Olivier Meyrou worked alongside Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé, capturing the working dynamic of the pair in an intimate and often unsettling documentary. Two decades following completion of filming, and with its release suppressed by Bergé until 2015, Celebration is a raw depiction of a great artist in his twilight years. Oxford Lamoureaux reviews for The 13th Floor.

Cut together from just 18 hours of material, Celebration creates a hidden vision of the last, great French couturier as he prepared his final collection before the brand was sold the following year. The title of the documentary is somewhat ironic, as much of the documentary portrays Saint-Laurent as a reclusive, anxious, internally terrified designer. Scenes of the twitchy Saint-Laurent appearing persistently uncomfortable in his own skin lend a deep feeling of sadness to the film, exacerbated by the nightmarish electronic score by François-Eudes Chanfrault.

The score of Celebration will be a point of contention for many, which seems purposefully disorienting as a way of portraying the mental torture enduring by Saint-Laurent as he struggled to exist in a world that he could no longer connect with. This sense of unease equally reflects the relationship of Saint-Laurent and Bergé – the latter accused of playing ‘puppet master’ to the withering Saint-Laurent – which feels remarkably complex and personal, yet always subdued for the camera. However, momentary flashes of true character are painful to observe, with one particular scene featuring Bergé meticulously overseeing a fashion show while intermittently displaying immense sorrow for Saint-Laurent in attendance.

The film alternates between colour and monochrome, using the former to display the extraordinary creations of Saint-Laurent and his army of petites mains, and the latter to focus intensely on the designer in ordinary scenes of complete anguish. The colour scenes, and the sprawling epic fashion shows included within the documentary, are a dream for lovers of couture and fashion alike – rolls of exquisite fabrics, otherworldly models with jaw-dropping elegance, and overwhelmingly beautiful designs capture the title of the documentary perfectly.

However, Celebration is most certainly not that. It’s an image of a designer who sacrificed his life, his joy, his soul to create this beauty, with the result a man out of touch with his own humanity. Interestingly, this applies to Bergé as well who, in one of the closing scenes, takes a CFDA award from Saint-Laurent’s hands and subconsciously slips, “I probably have a part of that” before seemingly overwhelmed by an intense wave of melancholy.

These moments echo the underlying sentiment of the film; that neither man could have created the life they did without the other, and that ultimately, each of their sacrifices produced a legacy that others will celebrate for eternity. Unfortunately, the parts they chose to sacrifice prevented the pair from achieving this celebration for themselves, a sadness acutely captured by this essential documentary in the final years of the last, great couturier’s life.

~Oxford Moureaux