Movie Review: Valentino: The Last Emperor
By Michael Phillips, Tribune Movie Critic
"I love beauty. Is not my fault." So says the high priest of Italian high fashion, Valentino Garavani, answering a TV interviewer's question about why he ventured into the design business.
He conquered that business pleat by pleat, sequin by sequin. Directed by first-time feature filmmaker (and longtime Vanity Fair correspondent) Matt Tyrnauer, "Valentino: The Last Emperor" is an air kiss of a documentary, following its amusingly imperious subject, his longtime companion and business partner Giancarlo Giammetti and their six pugs as they travel from Rome to Paris to Venice and, pugless, to the slopes of Gstaad. Viewed from the perspective of our current economic megillah, the film's preoccupations and locales seem almost sinfully haute.
After a Paris apprenticeship, Garavani arrived in Rome just as Rome was becoming, in effect, the city immortalized by Fellini in "La Dolce Vita." (Tyrnauer's breezy doc is scored to the music of Nino Rota, Fellini's invaluable collaborator.) Once his clothes found the adoring fans who could do them justice - Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, many others - Garavani was off and running. His company became a conglomerate, then a takeover target.
The film chronicles the final two years of Garavani's reign, beginning with preparations for a spring 2007 pret-a-porter show, then jumping back in time, then forward again to summer 2007 and more preparations, this time for a 45-year retrospective held in Rome.
The filmmaker's access was impressive, the results moderately entertaining. The world revealed here is a hand-sewn, no-expense-spared fashion paradise, and moments we've seen parodied in other films occur naturally. In other words, harried seamstresses with tape measures flung around their necks really do trot after their godlike employers as they dismiss this or that evening gown. "Once," says one assistant, "we bought a sewing machine. ... No one ever used it."
At one of the anniversary gala events, Joan Collins encounters someone wagging a microphone in her direction. "What's the difference between good style and trash?" she is asked. With a snort, countering everything Garavani represents, she answers: "I have no idea."
No MPAA rating (some partial nudity).
Running time: 1:36.
Featuring: Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Matteo Marzotto.
Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer; produced by Tyrnauer and Matt Kapp. An Acolyte Films release.