UNFILTERED: On Saturday night, the ambience at the UGC Normandie cinema was far removed from the glitz and glamour of Balmain, for the premiere of “Wonder Boy,” a moving documentary retracing Olivier Rousteing’s search for his birth parents.
The designer, looking subdued compared with his high-octane Instagram persona, took to the stage alongside first-time full-length film director Anissa Bonnefont, 35, in front of a full house. In the room were a handful of editors and also Natalia Vodianova, who slipped into her seat discreetly as the film was about to start and left just as quietly.
Long outspoken about being adopted, the documentary felt like a preamble to Rousteing’s speaking engagement about the revision of France’s adoption laws later this year. “With Olivier, we wanted to tell the story of someone looking for their origins because we believe it’s very important to know who you are to know where you’re going. He had an insane amount of courage to accept being filmed during his search. I believe it will help others. It’s a topic that goes beyond us. We see how anonymous births in France are an issue,” Bonnefont said before telling Rousteing she “love[s him] very much.”
“I’m really bad at emotions, so thank you, I love you, too,” Rousteing responded, taking the microphone. “It’s a strange moment in my life. Usually, a documentary happens when you’re 80 or 90, or when you’re actually dead,” he quipped. “But it’s more than a biopic, it’s a story to which we didn’t know the end.”
The film opens on a scene with the designer spitting in a container for a mail-in DNA test, and anyone expecting a documentary of his glittering universe will be sorely disappointed. Throughout the documentary, the turmoil that lies just below the surface of Rousteing’s glamorous public persona is exposed, for the first time. Scenes around the brand highlighted the sense that work is a way to suspend relentless internal questions. In turns, he is shown struggling with the French administrative process, trying to coax answers from his family while attempting to navigate the mutual complexity of their feelings, and ultimately discovering that the truths he held as certain were not so.
Images are strikingly unvarnished, including his devastated reaction when he discovers the facts of his birth. That his birth name was Claude Olivier Conte, that he is of Somalian-Ethiopian descent rather than mixed race, but most of all that his mother was 15 years old when he was born — “she was a kid,” he weeps in the film.
For all its poignancy, the documentary is not without lighter moments. One scene sees the designer dancing around in his car before pausing to ask his driver whether the windows are tinted or not. In another, he cuts a dress from the show lineup for being a cross between “a bougainvillaea and chewing gum. You’re welcome.” The look on his face when his driver suggests he take a day off is the stuff of meme gold.