Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections. By Fergus Henderson.
After twelve years of imprisonment, Olivier Meyrou’s uncompromising documentary on legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s final collection is released. Meyrou was prevented from releasing it by Saint Laurent’s partner Pierre Bergé, and within minutes one completely understands why.
It is a totally unsentimental view on Saint Laurent, who in 1999 at the time of filming was in profound decline. Bergé commissioned Meyrou’s film knowing full well that poor Saint Laurent’s physical and mental health was deteriorating, and yet perhaps seeing it portrayed so lucidly was still too much.
Of course, this is not to say that Meyrou has simply recorded things as they are and presented the situation objectively. He has fashioned a harsh, sparse documentary, deliberately focusing on Saint Laurent’s frailty. From the opening close up on his hand as he begins to sketch something before his inspiration swiftly wains, through his apparent shock at his own reflection, Saint Laurent is painted as a man floating through his own creation, watched closely by staff-turned-carers.
There is no myth making in this doc, no particular interest in the process of creating the collection, certainly no curiosity in Saint Laurent’s creative role, which has been ceded to staff and to Bergé. Indeed after the shock of how little Saint Laurent even really factors into this documentary has worn off, Bergé becomes the primary focus of Meyrou’s pitiless camera. Initially he doesn’t come across well whatsoever. He is rude, hostile, condescending. In one surreal scene he is taken up in a crane to view the obelisk at the bottom of the Champs-Élysées, which he promptly criticises for its poor placement. Elsewhere he scowls from doorways behind Saint Laurent’s back, silently conducting affairs. The doc at times seems like a hit job on him.
For the documentary’s first half we are presented with an infinitely pitiable view of things, several scenes soundtracked by unnerving, dark music running counter to the mundane proceedings. Meyrou is making sure here (in a very uncharitable way) that we get the message that everyone involved seems unwilling to process the disastrous state of Saint Laurent’s health, allowing him to bumble through the end of his legacy (and life) so that they can push the damn thing to the finishing line. He seems shocked by the loss of dignity within the situation at large.
And yet, towards the end, the documentary reveals itself to be concerned with the ambiguous role of the carer, the role that Bergé has taken on. Dignity and kindness is at last located. If at first Bergé seems bitter at Saint Laurent, it is understandable that, having essentially assumed Saint Laurent’s role in the company, he might resent such a heavy burden.
In one poignant moment Bergé disputes Saint Laurent’s claim of having found peace. Bergé instead calls him a sleepwalker. His job is not to wake him. The carer cannot fool themselves as others can.
What we see in this film is fundamentally a loving act: one man, Yves Saint Laurent, desiring to disappear, and another man, Bergé, helping him do so. That this is happening in the middle of a hurricane makes it all the more powerful.
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