It’s easy to see why “Celebration,” an intimate working portrait of fashion designer Yves St. Laurent filmed over the last years of his life, was suppressed upon its completion in 2007.
It jumps out from the behind-the-scenes sketching, sewing, fussing over models, magazine and TV interviews, the birthday luncheon or the fete that honors “the last of the great couturiers,” Yves St. Laurent, and becomes clear long before the lingering image of Pierre Bergé fussily closing the film.
It was the portrayal of Bergé, the by-then former lover but still business partner, tycoon behind Yves St. Laurent Inc., that Bergé objected to.
Shy, soft-spoken and effeminate, St. Laurent (who died a year after the film was finished) is seen much as Bergé wanted him to be remembered, as a creator whose work seemed formed from his dreams, while he was dreaming.
Bergé ‘s mission? “I try never to wake him,” Bergé says to an interviewer.
Bergé is the one who snapped at suppliers on the phone, barked at the sea of publicists managing or mis-managing photo ops for shows and events, who took whatever awards were handed to St. Laurent at every fete, ensuring he’d never have to lug them about.
“Probably, I have a part of that,” he says (in French, with English subtitles), admiring a trophy.
Not invisible, never truly “behind the scenes,” Bergé managed their philanthropy, financed museums and museum restorations. We see him helping install a “pyramidion” (designer cap) on an ancient Egyptian obelisk installed in Paris, a St. Laurent flourish promoting some show or event.
St. Laurent chain smokes, draws, sits for a long magazine interview (in sequences shot in black and white) and reflects.
Bergé kept the designer’s final, fatal health prognosis from St. Laurent, not letting him know he was about to die — and married him in a civil union just before his death, stage-managing him to the end.
Director Olivier Meyrou had lots of access, but made a film more concerned with artful flourishes than with gritty details. Watching and listening to two former seamstresses as they eagerly talk over one another touring the empty House of St. Laurent (headquarters), we pick up on the theme of “Celebration.”
Yes, we’re celebrating the artist. But everybody wants a piece of the credit, wants to ensure her or his place in the legacy.
Feature films on St. Laurent and other fashion documentaries have flowed into theaters and streaming serves in the dozen years since “Celebration” was finished, making this film feel almost quaint — an artifact. Others’ works have surpassed it, in many ways.
But it remains an eye-opening and artful look at just what it took to create that couture, that image and that legacy and that brand — still vital and popular all these years after the shy dreamer’s death.
MPAA Rating: unrated, some nudity
Cast: Yves St. Laurent, Pierre Berge
Credits: Directed by Olivier Meyrou. A 1091 release.
Running time: 1:13