Byline: Miles Socha / With contributions from Laurent Folcher

PARIS — A simple anniversary tribute or a farewell ode to a departing genius?
That was the lingering, but unanswered question Thursday when editors were invited to an advance screening of “Yves Saint Laurent: Time Regained,” a touching and revealing documentary slated to air on French cable Jan. 24, the day after the 40th anniversary YSL spring couture show that sources here say could be his last.
Yves Saint Laurent couture boss Pierre Berge, who introduced the film, has remained mum on the subject of when and if he and the designer might call it quits. But, as reported, speculation is building that the 65-year-old designer might be getting ready to bow out.
On Thursday, Berge snuck out of the theater before the final credits — and a planned question-and-answer period.
Asked why he made the film now, French director David Teboul said he wasn’t motivated by any particular milestone like the 40th anniversary, which is how French cable station Canal Plus is marketing the broadcast, even promising promotional windows at Galeries Lafayette. Rather, Teboul said he was fascinated by the story and talent of Saint Laurent.
The 90-minute film documents Saint Laurent’s entire life span and career, showing him as a teenager outfitting paper dolls and writing up couture orders for a house he wouldn’t establish until 1962.
Via interviews with the designer, Berge and his important collaborators, including Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux, Teboul constructs a portrait of a driven and sensitive man burdened with a towering reputation as one of the most important designers of the 20th century.
Surprisingly frank, the film features Saint Laurent’s mother talking openly about her son’s homosexuality, Catroux reminiscing about the “rebel” years of wanton partying and Saint Laurent himself articulating his approach to design, which he often described as torturous.
Seated on a gilded chair, smoking, Saint Laurent explains that the pantsuit, one of his most important contributions to fashion, was driven by his desire to empower women. But he also said he takes an intuitive approach when he sits down with paper and crayons, never knowing what will appear on the blank page. “I think of a woman’s face, and suddenly the dress will appear,” he said. “And when the design is finished, I am happy.”
The film will be aired in tandem with another YSL documentary by Teboul, entitled “5 Avenue Marceau,” and “Belle de Jour,” the first film in which Catherine Deneuve was dressed by Yves Saint Laurent.
The films, while indicative of great activity at the house, have helped spark retirement talk.
Berge and Saint Laurent, who reaped a $70 million payout when they surrendered the Rive Gauche ready-to-wear business to Gucci Group, have contracts stipulating that they can continue doing the couture until 2006. But relations with Francois Pinault, who has a controlling stake in Gucci Group and bankrolls YSL couture, are icy.
The uplifting, sentimental tone and historical content of Teboul’s film could serve as a loving send-off to the reclusive Saint Laurent, who speaks at length on camera as he reflects on his career and work.
By contrast, the banned YSL documentary by Olivier Meyrou paints a sadder portrait, amplifying Saint Laurent’s famous frailty and Berge’s easy temper.
As reported, Berge thwarted distribution of Meyrou’s film because he said Christophe Girard, his former right-hand man at YSL, “went behind his back” to have the distribution contract drawn up. Meyrou and Girard, director of couture strategy at LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and the deputy mayor of Paris, is Meyrou’s companion.
Meanwhile, Girard disputed Berge’s claims and accused him of artistic censure.
Meyrou recently invited members of his crew and friends to a private screening. Girard did not attend. His film, titled “Celebration,” is a more freestyle, moody documentary without commentary. Concentrating on the period when the house was preparing for the massive retrospective fashion show in 1998 at the Stade de France during the World Cup, Meyrou shows Saint Laurent sketching and attending fittings, but rarely speaking and appearing disinterested in his surroundings.
According to sources, the decision of the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris that thwarted distribution of the film is being appealed, with a decision expected next spring.

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