The real star of the documentary is Pierre Bergé, the man behind the Yves Saint Laurent curtain. PLAYTIME

We weren't supposed to see this documentary about Yves Saint Laurent.

Sponsored

Director Olivier Meyrou's doc on the famed French fashion designer was filmed in the early 2000s, over the course of two and a half years, while Saint Laurent worked on his final collection. His longtime business partner (and former romantic partner) Pierre Bergé invited Meyrou to produce the doc, but when it premiered at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival, Bergé was apparently shocked by what he saw.

Celebration depicts a rapidly aging Saint Laurent—a man so frail, he can hardly hold a cigarette to his lips. He is frequently rushed in and out of rooms, his image strictly controlled. Bergé knew Meyrou would capture this Saint Laurent—Bergé was there during the duration of the filming, and Saint Laurent was clearly becoming frailer as he aged. What Bergé didn't know was that the documentary would end up being less about Saint Laurent and more about him.

Bergé appears as the central figure in Celebration—the man behind the curtain, assisting and controlling Saint Laurent's hand. He tightly monitors every aspect of Saint Laurent's life, from his meetings with models to his birthday dinners. While Saint Laurent watches his garments move down the runway, the documentary's camera watches Bergé watch Saint Laurent. The New York Times reported that Bergé particularly did not like "the parent-child way the two interacted" in the film. It is not a flattering portrait.

After its 2007 premiere, Bergé sued to have Celebration blocked. It worked. Amazingly, Bergé did not sign a release authorizing the use of his image in the film. Since he ended up being its principal subject, he won the suit. No one would see Celebration while Bergé lived.

And then, in 2017, Bergé died.

Since a person's image rights expire when a person expires, "Celebration [was] freed" by Bergé's passing, a representative from the film's distribution company told the New York Times in 2018. "There is no pending litigation."

The doc was immediately reedited and prepared for release. Last year, it showed in New York City—on Bergé's birthday, November 14. After that, it toured the film festival circuit. Seattle had its first chance to see it earlier this year at the Seattle International Film Festival. Now it returns to Seattle for a run at Northwest Film Forum.

Support The Stranger

Meyrou has described his directing approach in Celebration as being "very close to a wildlife documentary." Saint Laurent and Bergé appear like exotic birds. In most shots, Meyrou's camera sits quietly in the corner. He allows his subjects to be plainly seen. Ironically, this unintrusive approach is what makes the film so intrusive. Everything is laid bare.

Viewers shouldn't go in expecting a clean retrospective on Saint Laurent. It's nothing like Halston, the flashy new authoritative documentary on the fashion designer of the same name known for making Liza Minnelli's pants. That documentary, which is currently streaming on Prime Video, constructs a fashion designer's legacy. In Celebration, Meyrou does the opposite. By the end of it, everyone feels undressed.

Sponsored
Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.