Since its premiere at the 2007 Berlinale, this behind-the-scenes documentary was embroiled in a lengthy censorship battle that saw it barred from general release. It follows grand fashion poohbah Yves Saint-Laurent preparing what would be his final show. No harm in that contentious-free matter, were it not for YSL’s number two and on-and-off partner Pierre Bergé, who took against the way director Olivier Meyrou portrayed him personally. Quite why this version is apparently more palatable to Bergé is something of a mystery, as the now un-suppressed film is less a reverence to the virtually monosyllabic couturier and more the portrait of uneasy dynamics.
The layered relationship between YSL and Bergé is said to have been an inspiration for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. It’s about control: Bergé casts himself as the enabler who makes sure that nobody wakes YSL, who he refers to as “the sleepwalker”. Even when the designer claims he wants to make a new start and “work with happiness”, the micro-managing Bergé is the first to step in and affirm that the couturier’s anguish is a vital creative force, a noxious muse that mustn’t be tampered with or compromised. During one key scene, we witness the master admiring the new collection while a half-obscured Bergé hawks over the proceedings, albeit behind a door. This is in many ways the ironically-titled Celebration’s defining image: Meyrou’s camera suggests rather than states, observing the emotions that can broil up from living in the shadow of greatness. The end result can be frustrating at times, but the doc remains a quietly fascinating character study. Just not of who you’d expect.
Celebration | Directed by Olivier Meyrou (France, 2007), with Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Bergé. Starts Sep 26.
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