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USA 2008
Directed by
Matt Tyrnauer
96 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Synopsis: A portrait of fashion legend,Valentino

Haute couture is the documentary theme of the month it seems. Hard on the heels of The September Issue, the portrait of Vogue boss, Anna Wintour, comes Matt Tyrnauer’s surprisingly rewarding account of 77 year old Valentino, as the film’s title so eloquently summarises it, the last of the golden age of couturiers. Whereas the former film suffered from an excess of constraint, Tyrnauer has been allowed a remarkably free hand and what results is a film that works on many levels..

Valentino: The Last Emperor is a fascinating and quite poignant film that belies its initial prospect of delivering more of the mincing vacuity that is so often associated with high fashion. Although clearly at times, Valentino regrets his decision, he has given Tyrnauer, a former Vanity Fair staffer, privileged access to his world over a two-year period. And quite a world it is. For a start the man is rich. By today's standards, imperially rich.  He has a villa in Rome, a chateau outside Paris, a private plane and a huge yacht. The usual bevy of establishment film and rock stars as well as the leftovers of European royalty attend his parties and he travels with an entourage of flunkies, not to mention 5 pug dogs. Apparently the wealth comes not from selling frocks but his name.

The story of the Valentino brand is the larger narrative that sits above the man himself. The business that he started 45 years ago with his lover, Giancarlo Giammetti, who has stayed with him for the duration, was in turn bought out by a wealthy Italian family, then by investment bankers, as we find out at the film’s end, eventually, and without any irony, forcing Valentino to step down from his self-created throne. Characteristically, he does this in grand style with a gala party in Rome that, fittingly, uses the Coliseum for its backdrop.

Aside from the fabulous wealth and the ruthless business broking, however, is the young man smitten by Hollywood’s goddesses who dedicated his life to making beautiful dresses for beautiful women. There are, of course, plenty of grounds to question the assumptions here but taken in itself there is no question that Valentino’s talent is remarkable. We don’t see a lot of the dresses, but what we do see are quite wonderful. There is a particularlytelling scene in which Valentino takes a length of fabric and effortlessly wraps it around the rail-thin frame of a near-naked model to show his head seamstress what he wants his creation to look like. It is pure artistry and if Tyrnauer has achieved one thing it is to show us this. Valentino: The Last Emperor is a marvellous account of a creative artist, of an icon and a brand all rolled into one legendary name and embodied in one truly extraordinary life




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