CELEBRATION (Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections)

(director/writer: Olivier Meyrou; cinematographer: Jean-Marc Bouzou, Florian Bouchet; editors: Cathie Dambel, Amrita David; music: Francois-Euydes Chanfraut; cast: Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Laetitia Casta, Catherine Deneuve, Katoucha Niane, Loulou De La Falaise; Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Benedicte Couvreur, Christopher Girard; Kimstim; 2019-France-in French & English, with English subtitles when needed-in black-and-white and color)

“A haunting portrait of the renown fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A haunting portrait of the renown fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in his declining last days when he went into a shell and the company went into a downward spiral.

The documentary by French filmmaker Olivier Meyrou (“Parade”/”Beyond Hatred”) was commissioned by Saint Laurent’s industrialist business partner and former lover, Pierre Bergé, to showcase the company. The lovers split in1976, but continued their lucrative business partnership in the company that they founded in 1961 under Laurent’s name. It was funded by the American millionaire Mack Robinson. Because the filmmaker got free access to see how the Couture House operates, we get to see never-seen-before-footage and an unvarnished look at a physically and mentally deteriorating renown fashion designer experiencing a breakdown. It’s a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ experience of how the fashion house is run and how the designer is breaking down.

Celebration was filmed in 1998. It started when Laurent was 60 and ailing (in three years of filming on Super 16, it had just 18 hours of material). It was suppressed for a decade because Bergé was not pleased with the way the company or he were portrayed. It showed him as a domineering, manipulative and cynical figure taking control of the company in a heavy-handed manner, seemingly taking advantage to stage a power-grab when Laurent was fragile, walked with a slouch and seemed shaky in his voice and spirit. In 2007, the documentary was finally released but just to be premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. It was then withdrawn from a wide release under legal pressure from Bergé.

Much is made of Bergé’s nasty reaction to a quip from author Marguerite Duras about the sleepy-eyed Saint Laurent, with the partner sharply retorting that “Yves should be left asleep because that’s best for the company and the quality of its collection.”

Biopic details to keep in mind are that Laurent, the foremost rival of Chanel and his mentor Dior, was born in Algeria in 1936, moved to Paris when 17 and died there in 2008 from brain cancer. His company was known for creating in 1965 the highly praised Mondrian Collection and creating the women’s pants suit in 1967. The designer had retired in 2002. Bergé in 2015 gave the film his blessing to get a full release and soon passed away in 2017.

In one sense the film seems vacuous because we learn nothing about Laurent’s personal life, his inspirations or how his thought process works. What we get are a lot of servile seamstresses frantically sewing (the only likable characters in the film), stuck-up models prancing around the dress factory in stiff stylish dresses and the knowledge that Laurent was the last of the great French designers to operate his own house.

The eerie soundtrack by horror-maven music maker François-Eudes Chanfrault made me think I was watching a horror film.

From the great American director Paul Thomas Anderson we learn that he was granted special permission to see this documentary during a private screening and it influenced his fashion designer film, Phantom Thread. The role of the character played by Daniel Day-Lewis was built around the Bergé figure as voiced in this film.

It was originally titled Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections, but ironically was re-titled Celebration.


REVIEWED ON 2/27/2020  GRADE: B–