AF French Film Festival 2019 Review: Celebration: Yves Saint Laurent

Image courtesy of AFFFF

What: Celebration: Yves Saint Laurent (documentary)

Who: Directed by Olivier Meyrou

Watch the trailer.

Celebration is a documentary filmed in the cinéma vérité style, and so emphasises natural actions and dialogue as it follows the movements of the army of dressmakers, models and coordinators behind Yves Saint Laurent in his final years. The man himself is presented to us as elusive and withdrawn, an otherworldly genius. Indeed, at times I forgot this was in fact real footage – many moments where incredibly intimate, with the camera appearing extremely close to its intended subjects, capturing private, honest moments.

The relationship between YSL and his long-term partner and stage manager Pierre Bergé is a key subject of Celebration, even more so than the fashion they both created. Bergé is painted as protective and critical yet proud of the designer, and the sense of nostalgia and loyalty particular to a lifelong friendship is palatable. Through Bergé’s eyes we see Saint Laurent as a vulnerable, aging creative. The film is summed up through an excerpt of an interview with Bergé where he describes his favourite description of YSL – he tells of an acquaintance who, whenever they see YSL interviewed on TV, would say they thought ‘Oh look, somebody woke him up again!’. As Bergé explains, and as the film conveys through sound and its intimate shots, YSL indeed appears to constantly be in a dreamlike state, at least while working on his designs. This mystery is maintained as we only see YSL when he is interacting at work or in public- the documentary does not delve into his personal daily life, childhood or early career.     

As the documentary was filmed in the late 90s and early 2000s, nostalgia for the heyday of YSL, from the 60s through to the 80s, is another major theme. This is cleverly recounted through the conversations of two middle-aged seamstresses who take us through the grand rooms of the old haute couture house, reminiscing on the placement of their desks, the temperament of a colleague and other little details which the rooms trigger in their memories. Later we watch them view a recording of the famous 1998 Stade de France show, providing their commentary: ‘Look, my dress with the iron breasts!’.    

The artistic, montage quality of the film, coupled with the cinéma verité techniques, make Celebration an unusual documentary. As alluded to before, it does not so much adhere to a structure or document a history as portray the atmosphere surrounding a particular iconic figure during the twilight of his career. Those interested in the significance of YSL designs or the story of Saint Laurent’s career will not leave the theatre informed, but tantalised. Celebration is an intriguing and insightful documentary nonetheless.

3 out of 5 stars

Katerina Grypma

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