Valentino: The Last Emperor

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Valentino: The Last Emperor

Release Date: May 29
Director: Matt Tyrnauer

Cinematography: Tom Hurwitz

Studio/Run Time: Acolyte Films, 96 mins.

Film about legendary designer is a promising debut

Vanity Fair writer and Editor-at-Large Matt Tyrnauer’s first documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor traces the famed Italian designer as he debuts a new collection in Paris, plans his 45th anniversary party in Rome and deals with the vicissitudes that inevitably come with handing one’s life’s work over to a 21st century multinational corporation. At his side every step of the way is his longtime business partner (and life partner) Giancarlo Giammetti, adding a poignant note of family drama to the film.

The film is visually dazzling, as Valentino’s world is the world of a man unabashedly in love with beauty, and Tyrnauer wisely gives Tom Hurwitz’s lush visuals sufficient room to breathe, lingering over architecture, furnishings, sets and, of course, those incomparable dresses. The majestic score, appropriately enough, is largely drawn from classics by Nino Rota, Fellini’s favorite and the patron saint of Italian film composers. It’s fascinating to see Valentino’s seamstresses (whom he calls “the girls,” although many of them are grandmothers) work. And there’s an elegiac element here, as Valentino is the last of the la dolce vita lions, a man of authentic couture somewhat out of time in an era of mass-produced “high fashion.”

The whole thing would be compelling enough as a fascinating study of that world. But despite all its spectacle, at its true heart the film is simply a love story, an exploration of the unique and complicated relationship between its two protagonists. As Giancarlo Giammetti himself declares, “This isn’t a story about fashion or about money. It’s a story about love.” Valentino’s success would have been inconceivable without not only Giammetti’s steering of the business, but also his unwavering—and sometimes seemingly unappreciated—love. In his acceptance speech of the French Legion d’Honeur, Valentino reaches Giammetti in his list of acknowledgments and very nearly breaks down. It’s a telling moment for a man who has seemed petulant and difficult (though elegantly so, as always) for much of the film.

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