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Valentino: The Last Emperor

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Additional Venice Film Festival reviews

Venice Film Festival, Orizzonti

Unbeknownst to director Matt Tyrnauer when he began shooting "Valentino: The Last Emperor," his documentary would capture the swan song of haute couture's most long-standing icon, Valentino Garavani, and his former lover and life-long business partner Giancarlo Giammetti, without whom today's billion-dollar empire would not exist. Spanning from 2005-2007, the film culminates with the designer's multi-million dollar 45th anniversary gala, two months after which Valentino retired.

Though entertaining and even poignant, the film, which was picked up by Celluloid Dreams just days before the festival, will doubtfully play much beyond arthouse cinemas in fashion hubs and should perform best on DVD.

Against a score teeming with Nina Rota, Tyrnauer, Vanity Fair's Editor-at-Large, used his unprecedented access to the notoriously reserved Valentino to portray the end of an era, one of the last holdouts of La Dolce Vita. However, as he follows the extraordinary relationship between the two men and the creative process behind the latest collections, the director only skims over the historical material. In taking for granted that this background is familiar to all, the film drives home the fact that high fashion is made by the few for the few.

But beneath all the sequins what intrigues most is the passion of a man who admits he is a disaster at anything else in life but designing dresses, and his partner whose business acumen revolutionized fashion. In building their empire from the ground up, the couturier and Giammetti created it seems the very industry that would eventually force Valentino the artist to buckle before the pressures of Valentino the business.

With a fly-on-the-wall approach that is at times too restrained, the film could have benefited from more interviews with the members of Valentino and Giammetti's famed court of friends and workers who travel the world over with them, changing cities every three or four days as they move from Valentino's castle to yacht and other luxury locales.

Worthy of their own documentary, Valentino's loyal seamstresses still stitched everything by hand up until the very end of his reign, as the designer tirelessly sought the extravagant perfection of beauty that first inspired him as a young boy. Apparently, a single sewing machine, bought years ago, was never used.

Also stars in their own right, Valentino's six pugs steal the limelight, even from some of the world's most beautiful women.

Production company: Acolyte Films. Director: Matt Tyrnauer. Producers: Tyrnauer, Matt Kapp. Director of photography: Tom Hurwitz. Editor: Bob Eisenhardt.  Sales Agent: Celluloid Dreams. 95 minutes.