CELEBRATION is Real Documentary and Pure Cinema

A long lost Saint-Laurent doc shows how its subject was the last of his kind.

On the day in early 2002, when the great designer Yves Saint-Laurent announced his retirement from the fashion world, Charlie Rose had infamous Vogue editor Anna Wintour on for an interview about the fashion legend and what his announcement (made shortly before what was to be his final show) for the industry. During the interview, Wintour described Saint-Laurent as a revolutionary who seemed to come along in the late 60s and 70s when the changing times reflected the designs he was creating. Wintour further goes on to say that his retirement was a sign that perhaps Saint-Laurent no longer understood the times or cared very much about changing with them. It’s an excellent interview and a great prologue to Celebration, Olivier Meyrou’s recently-released, long lost documentary about the making of the aforementioned show, the influence of Pierre Berge (Saint-Laurent’s devoted professional and romantic partner) and the legendary designer himself.

Celebration is a doc that is truly like no other when it comes to every part of its execution. As a documentarian, Meyrou seems completely devoted and almost entranced by his subject and the effect his mere name and presence conjured up. The result of such curiosity is one of the most cinematic documentaries made in some time. For starters, the music of Celebration is anything but documentary-esque, proving so incredibly mind-blowing as it alternates between the grandiose and the surreal, especially when it focuses on Saint-Laurent himself. A number of allusions to the works of Robert Altman can be found as we see a variety of semi-narratives taking place in the grand design house Saint-Laurent created. There are the two former dressmakers who have returned to reminisce about their days working for the great man, a stadium tribute consisting of countless models, each wearing a different Saint-Laurent creation from past decades (the way the entire group makes a formation to spell out the designer’s iconic logo is amazing) and the hurriedness of seamstresses, models and assistants all rushing to get everything done in time and just right for what will be Saint-Laurent’s farewell show.

The heart of the film itself however remains the not just the famous name, but the one next to it. “Genius and businessman” were the terms Wintour used to describe the relationship between Saint-Laurent and Berge who, as his protector and partner, was unquestionably the most loyal and unshakeable figure in his life. If Celebration feels more like a narrative rather than a traditional fly-on-the-wall effort, then Berge fits perfectly into the role of the film’s maddening anti-hero. On more than one occasion the camera catches Saint-Laurent’s right hand man yelling, screaming and fretting with Joan Crawford precision over every single detail of the upcoming show to ensure that his longtime love’s exit and legacy is as perfect and flawless as possible. A telling moment at an awards ceremony sees Berge carrying his partner’s award and walking on as Saint-Laurent is free to be adored by some of those in attendance, signifying both mens’ roles in their lives. Meanwhile, the grainy black and white interview segments featuring the designer are incredibly revealing and poetic. When asked if he had anything left to do at that point in his life, Saint-Laurent comments: “I hope so. Something pure and elegant,” he muses before adding: “But true elegance comes from the heart.”

Watching Saint-Laurent in his scattered scenes here, he seems aloof and distant in his own world, but who comes alive at various times, such as when a model wearing one of his designs walks by, causing him to spring up suddenly and make a slight adjustment thereby showing that his passion flowed through him all of his days. Saint-Laurent’s life has been brought to the screen a number of times, including in 2015s Saint Laurent, which I reviewed. While that movie favored visual salaciousness over the essence of its central figure, it nonetheless confirmed the notion that Saint-Laurent was more intriguing a character than any second rate version generated by a biopic. Celebration knows this and that’s why its helmer has chosen to leave his subject alone for the most part, examining him from afar and letting the man’s effect on the world he influenced for decades speak for itself.

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