Celebration, directed by Olivier Meryou, is a documentary about fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent, though it does not take the form of the typical biography. Rather, it is a captivatingly artistic, frequently experimental, and sometimes bizarre snapshot of the legend in his element.
Rather than providing a broad survey of Laurent’s life, the film focuses specifically on him and his process as he prepares what would become his final show. Laurent’s story is believed to have been one of the chief inspirations for filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson as he made his haunting fashion industry drama Phantom Thread, and watching this documentary through that lens is fascinating to say the least.
Unlike most other documentaries focusing on a famous figure, Celebration is not preoccupied with adulation of its subject. Rather, Meryou seems to intend to present Laurent in full honesty, allowing the audience to come to their own decisions regarding his personality and actions. However, the movie does make a point to challenge some of the preconceived notions that audiences may have about fashion professionals such as Laurent.
After the film’s 2007 Berlin debut, Laurent’s business partner Pierre Berge attempted to have the release stopped due to its sometimes less-than-flattering portrayal of Laurent’s mental state at the time.Yet even though the movie does earnestly show the consequences that Laurent’s lifestyle had on his mind over time, the film is still very much a celebration of his life and work, as the title implies.
The movie clocks in at less than an hour and fifteen minutes, and thanks to the fact that the film is so unorthodox, it is likely to breeze by. Granted, those who are accustomed to documentaries with a more traditional narrative may find the movie’s verite-like style to be a bit trying, although the film’s unusual nature is part of gives the movie its appeal.
Meryou’s use of sound and music in the film is quite interesting. Much of the soundtrack will creep underneath the skin of the audience with its repetitive use of discomforting noises, heightening the sense of tension despite the seeming lack of significant conflict in the narrative. Meryou also uses other sounds, such as that of bustling, to further build this feeling of urgency.
Visually, the movie is as impressive as one would expect given the film’s focus on fashion. Even beyond beautifully showcasing Laurent’s world-famous designs, the cinematography is phenomenal. One of the most impressive things about the movie is its keen understanding of spatial geography. Thanks to the impressive camerawork, audiences will feel transported into Laurent’s workspace as he prepares for his show.
Although it is understandable to a certain extent why Berge would have initially wanted this portrait of his business partner to be hidden from the public eye, Celebration is actually a great tribute to the genius of Yves Saint Laurent. A beguiling and unique twist on the fashion doc, this is one not to miss.
Celebration hits theaters on October 2.