Thousands of truths

Olivier Meyrou on Celebration, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Olivier Meyrou with Anne-Katrin Titze on Saint Laurent director Bertrand Bonello and screenwriter Thomas Bidegain: "He wanted to see Celebration for the last part of the movie."
Olivier Meyrou with Anne-Katrin Titze on Saint Laurent director Bertrand Bonello and screenwriter Thomas Bidegain: "He wanted to see Celebration for the last part of the movie." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The morning before going to the new Pace Gallery in Chelsea for David Hockney’s La Grande Cour, Normandy exhibition and meeting with Bacurau directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles and with Sônia Braga at Cinetic Media, Olivier Merou, the director of Celebration joined me for a conversation at Film Forum on his long-awaited Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé documentary.

It's shot by Jean-Marc Bouzou and Florian Bouchet over three years starting in 1998 with a terrific score by François-Eudes Chanfrault (Clément Cogitore’s Neither Heaven Nor Earth) and sound production by Yolande Decarsin and Ludovic Escallier, and we see Catherine Deneuve, Loulou De La Falaise, Katoucha Niane, and Laetitia Casta, among others, interact with the master. With style and flair, Celebration (aka Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections) takes us behind-the-scenes and into the private and public world of Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.

Olivier Meyrou on Yves Saint Laurent: “It was complete creative focus.”
Olivier Meyrou on Yves Saint Laurent: “It was complete creative focus.”

I spoke with Bertrand Bonello on Zombi Child during the New York Film Festival and when I told him that I was meeting with Olivier Meyrou the next day for a conversation on Celebration he said: “I saw the film while I was writing [Saint Laurent with Thomas Bidegain]. But I know it has been very difficult for him [Olivier] because the film has been a problem with Mr. Bergé.”

After a long journey to get the film a theatrical release, Olivier Meyrou’s Celebration (a version of the film was shown at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival) had it US premiere at Film Forum in New York and is now opening in the UK this Friday.

Anne-Katrin Titze: First of all I have greetings to you from Bertrand Bonello. We talked yesterday about his Zombi Child. He was one of the few people who got to see Celebration before everybody else.

Olivier Meyrou: Yes, while he was writing the screenplay about Yves Saint Laurent. He wanted to see Celebration for the last part of the movie. The last part is the end in fact, so he got inspired. He came with the screenwriter [Thomas Bidegain] to see the Celebration film. It’s great. I love when it’s connected.

AKT: I do see the connection. I remember Bertrand mentioning that he wanted to film a board meeting like a battle. Nothing in your film is really what we expect.

Olivier Meyrou: “Saint Laurent was the genuine talent but for 40 years in fact Pierre Bergé wrote the story.”
Olivier Meyrou: “Saint Laurent was the genuine talent but for 40 years in fact Pierre Bergé wrote the story.”

OM: It’s a documentary, so it’s based on truth.

AKT: But what truth?

OM: Thousands of truths. I think when you’re doing a movie, it’s just a matter of point-of-view. A film is finally just one point of view, the director’s point of view. With the same story you could do 50 different films and all of them could be right. For me, I was really intrigued by the couple, a 45-year couple. And the cement of the couple was the House of Haute Couture. It was like their child, in fact.

AKT: Their child, as are the art works in a way.

OM: Pierre Bergé is more than business partner. He’s like a movie producer almost. If we know so well the myth of Yves Saint Laurent, it’s because of Pierre Bergé also. Saint Laurent was the genuine talent but for 40 years in fact Pierre Bergé wrote the story. He wrote the myth like a screenwriter. He organised the big events, like a director.

AKT: You have that beautiful moment when Saint Laurent rehearses accepting an award, and Pierre Bergé scolds him “Don’t stand like an old man.”

Olivier Meyrou on Bertrand Bonello being 'inspired' by Celebration for Saint Laurent: “It’s great. I love when it’s connected.”
Olivier Meyrou on Bertrand Bonello being 'inspired' by Celebration for Saint Laurent: “It’s great. I love when it’s connected.”

OM: It was in New York. It was at the Armory.

AKT: At the Park Avenue Armory?

OM: Yes.

AKT: The hotel where they were at, it wasn’t The Carlyle.

OM: It was The Pierre. He had an apartment there on the top floor, beautiful apartment. Filled with objects. I remember some Indian objects, it was like a museum almost.

AKT: Their taste! Besides what we learn about the personalities, what we see is so enjoyable. You captured so much beauty in your film. I love the handiwork, the fabric, the craft.

OM: The seamstresses. In fact, when you enter in the House of Haute Couture it was like entering into a France in miniature. On the top floor you had the workers, the seamstresses, mostly women. Below you had the studio of Yves Saint Laurent which was not very big. On the other side you had Pierre Bergé’s office. And on the ground floor you had the big salon for the customers.

AKT: With the staircase.

OM: Yes, and everyone was living under the same roof and what was astonishing was that creation was at the centre of everything. Of course they were making money but creation was at the centre.

Olivier Meyrou: “He had about 100 people working there. And each of them had a part of Yves Saint Laurent.”
Olivier Meyrou: “He had about 100 people working there. And each of them had a part of Yves Saint Laurent.”

When Yves Saint Laurent wanted something, even if it was a struggle, he was winning in the end. It was complete creative focus. And probably that was the last House of Couture like that. After that you had big moguls.

AKT: Conglomerates.

OM: And now I think that creative people can be changed overnight.

AKT: It happens all the time now. You have Bergé saying, when they started, there was Chanel, there was Balenciaga.

OM: Exactly. And Dior died already. It was fascinating because we shot from 1998 till 2001. But when you were entering the House of Haute Couture it was like going back to the 19th century or the early 20th century. It was a different time.

AKT: You feel it in the clothes, the way he is using the artworks, the Miró, the Mondrian dresses.

OM: It was really like entering inside a painter’s atelier. Saint Laurent was like a classical painter almost. All the hats he had. It was a house of creation.

La Grande Cour, Normandy by David Hockney at the global headquarters of Pace Gallery in Chelsea
La Grande Cour, Normandy by David Hockney at the global headquarters of Pace Gallery in Chelsea Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: I like that you have them return to the empty atelier twice. First with the seamstresses.

OM: Monette and Mina. They are such Jean Renoir characters.

AKT: They are! Exactly. There they are giddy and talkative. They could be in the new Rules Of The Game. And then you have Pierre Bergé also visit and as much as it’s different, it’s not that much different. All of them are affected by the spirit of place.

OM: I think yes, you are right. They were all living the same adventure. And even though Yves Saint Laurent was a genius, he had about 100 people working there. And each of them had a part of Yves Saint Laurent.

Celebration is currently in UK and US cinemas.

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