Valentino: The Last Emperor
2009, NR, 96 min. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 24, 2009
Fashion designer Valentino Garavani, one of the last of the great couturiers, is the object on display in this documentary rather than his rangy models and their stunning Valentino-designed garb. Tyrnauer, a first-time filmmaker who is an editor at large for Vanity Fair and the author of many a celebrity profile, appears to have been allowed unprecedented access to Valentino, which probably proved a challenge as the film was shot over a period of a couple of years and darts among at least half a dozen of Valentino’s luxe homes in Europe and New York – châteaus, villas, an old castle, and a yacht. We get a firsthand look at Valentino’s extravagant lifestyle: the coterie that travels with him everywhere, the five dogs that traipse with him from manse to manse, the fine furnishings and expensive artwork on the walls, the celebrities who flock to his designs, the seamstresses and other minions who respond to his every beck and call. The film focuses primarily on the last couple of years of Valentino’s career, culminating with the planning and execution of an extraordinary three-day event celebrating his 45th anniversary in fashion. The story of Valentino’s career is shown to be inextricably entwined with that of Giancarlo Giammetti, his business partner for all those years and his former lover. Their working relationship is a special thing, full of tenderness and friction, honesty and strategy. We observe the two, especially Valentino, speaking tartly or rudely to each other, yet their curt remarks are always tempered by the lenience of mutual support and understanding. It is Giammetti’s command of the design house’s business operation which allows Valentino to create, unfettered by practical details. Valentino’s seamless world of haute couture does not mesh well with a world governed ever-increasingly by the bottom line. Despite Tyrnauer’s dutiful camera presence, the film nevertheless exudes a sense of not having captured everything there is to see. Valentino and Giammetti are savvy subjects who never appear to lose their awareness of the camera in their midst. The viewer gets the feeling that the most revealing stuff is still happening offscreen, out of the filmmaker’s purview. Ultimately, the film feels as glitzy and superficial as the fashion industry itself, a bauble in full regalia, and it’s likely your interest in the documentary will depend largely on your prior interest in the subject matter.