(2007) Documentary (Kimstim/1091) Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint-Laurent, Loulou De La Falaise, Catherine Deneuve, Laetitia Casta. Directed by Olivier Meyrou
The great Yves Saint-Laurent was a fashion icon, one of the last of the great haute couture fashion houses and certainly, as he expresses mournfully in an interview sequence during the film, the last with a living couturier (his fashion house would be sold to Gucci the following year).
Despite the title, this documentary is not so much a celebration as it is an elegy, a look at a great lion in the winter of his life. Shockingly, Saint-Laurent appears almost drugged in much of the film, sometimes appearing to be nodding off, other times being remonstrated with by his business partner and life partner Pierre Bergé not to lean over the podium before giving a speech so as not to appear as a doddering old man.
Most of the film revolves around a show the old master is putting together, what would turn out to be his last (although nobody knew it at the time). We see the apparatus of a major fashion hose humming at the top of its game; the seamstresses, chafing at near-impossible deadlines and an endless series of revisions, the models preening and cooing in the presence of the great man, the publicists trying to make order amidst the chaos and Bergé.
He also doesn’t come off particularly well, often boorish and condescending in his behavior, throwing a temper tantrum due to the presence of a photographer, often making snide and passive-aggressive comments about his partner “He is a sleepwalker, one who should not be awakened.” There is one unbelievable sequence late the film where Saint-Laurent has just won a prestigious award, only to have it nearly ripped out of his arms by Bergé, who says “I probably had a hand in it.” And yes, he probably did but it comes off seeming mean.
The film was screened only once, at the 2007 Berlinale, the year before Saint-Laurent passed away from brain cancer, only to have Bergé sue to have the film suppressed. It wasn’t until after Bergé himself passed on two years ago that the rights became available. After a brief New York theatrical release last October, the film is finally making its way to home video.
Is this an essential documentary? If you are a fashion junkie, no doubt. I don’t know if this is the most flattering portrait of Saint-Laurent possible and it certainly says nothing about his contributions to the industry, which among other things included the introduction of the pantsuit, for which Hilary Clinton should be grateful if nobody else. There is very little context of any sort given here; it is cinema verité in its purest form. That is both good and bad; if you don’t have much knowledge of fashion, you will undoubtedly feel lost and even bored while watching.
Meyrou alternates between using color and black and white in his footage; color for the reality of the work, black and white for contemplation. The music score is a problem; it is often jarring and intrusive, meant, I suppose, to symbolize the frail mental state of Saint-Laurent but coming off largely as inappropriate for the film. You’re better off turning the sound off and reading the subtitles.
One of the more delightful sequences is showing a couple of the seamstresses who return to the fashion house after it had been shuttered, remembering where their desks were, where the time clocks were, remembering a fellow seamstress who had a bad temper nearly clocking one of the two of them with a window.
It is on the one hand a fascinating portrait of Bergé but as for a legacy film for Saint-Laurent, it doesn’t work all that well. In a sense it is a look at the way fashion houses worked in times gone by but it may seem quaint to modern fashionistas. Nonetheless, if you have any sort of interest in the subject at all, it is well worth your time to rent this. If you’re like me and don’t have the interest in women’s clothes, you still might find some fulfillment in watching the interpersonal relationship between Bergé and Saint-Laurent.
REASONS TO SEE: Essential for fashionistas.
REASONS TO AVOID: The musical score is unsettling and at times inappropriate.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a surfeit of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The documentary was filmed back in 1998 for what would turn out to be St. Laurent’s last show before his house was sold to Gucci. It was kept on the shelf by Berge who felt that it revealed too much about the reclusive fashion icon.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/3//20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Gospel According to Andre
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
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