Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Released: May 30, 2024
Grade: B+

High & Low – John Galliano

Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald has a good eye when it comes to picking interesting subjects for feature-length documentaries.  They have included the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich (One Day in September), two mountaineers who encountered trouble when descending a mountain in Peru (Touching the Void), and gifted musicians who died while still in the prime of their careers (Marley, Whitney).

His latest documentary is centred on British fashion designer John Galliano and, as the film’s title articulates, there have been plenty of highs and lows across his career.  Galliano, interviewed on camera as part of the introduction, says “I’m going to tell you everything” and while he’s a little sheepish and/or forgettable about some events, it doesn’t fall into the trap of some other docos which resemble glorified puff-pieces paid for by the subject (or their families).

We pick things up in the mid-1980s when Galliano graduated from high school and studied fashion.  In 1995, he became the first English designer to head up a French fashion house (Givenchy) and a year later, he got the top job at Dior.  It was a meteoric rise for someone with little business acumen who described himself as “shy”.  Yet, there was something amazing about his designs and runway shows which captured the eye of influential folk including Anna Wintour, Penélope Cruz, and Kate Moss (all are heard from in the film).

Success has varying impacts on people and in the case of Galliano, he disintegrated during the first decade of the 21st century.  He became so ego-driven that he saw himself as a God-like deity and everyone else in the world existed to serve his growing needs.  He became addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs to the point where he could barely function.  His loyal staff would spend hours trying to get Galliano into a presentable state before doing public appearance and interviews.  The low point came in 2010 when he was filmed on camera hurling antisemitic insults at patrons in a Parisian restaurant.

High & Low – John Galliano covers topics we’ve seen before in documentaries and biopics.  There are people who lose their identity in the pursuit of creative perfection.  The most interesting layer in Macdonald’s film is the discussion of forgiveness and redemption.  Galliano sought professional help and has reinvented his career (not quite to the same highs) but did he deserve a second chance?  That question is posed of several interviewees in the film who provide different perspectives and answers.  Audiences will form their opinion based on the evidence presented.

With something to say about both fashion and humanity, High & Low – John Galliano is an eye-opening, conversation generator.