Men of the Cloth: Film Review

The documentary offers likeable characters and behind-the-scenes interest, but isn't that enlightening.

Vicki Vasilopoulos follows three master tailors whose craft may be dying out.

NEW YORK — Spending time with three practitioners of an endangered craft -- an art, some would say -- Vicki Vasilopoulos' Men of the Cloth is an Italy-centric look at custom tailoring that sees today's remaining Italian-American handcrafted suit-makers as direct descendants of Michelangelo and Leonardo. The debut doc locates subjects who are good company and provides an enjoyable peek into their operations, but its discussion of craftsmanship is more romantic than detailed, limiting its appeal among those with an interest in traditional garment-making.

Vasilopoulos introduces us to two Italian-Americans: Nino Corvato, who plies his trade on Madison Avenue and presumably serves an elite slice of Manhattan's One Percent, and Joe Centofanti, a nonagenarian working in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She later goes back to the old country to meet Checchino Fonticoli, who got his start in traditional tailoring but soon adapted to assembly-line production and now consults for Brioni, a fashion house that employs much of the population of the central Italian town of Penne. (Scenes in picturesque Penne make the doc's subpar videography especially noticeable.)

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We hear about their apprenticeships and watch them work with clients, going through three stages of constructing a suit from scratch. But though there's plenty of footage of men cutting cloth with fifty-year-old shears, sticking pins in patterns and hand-stitching garments, an uninitiated viewer will walk away with no more understanding of how a pattern is made or how imperfections of fit are adjusted than when he walked in.

In its talk about this vanishing craft (an Italian village that once boasted 100 tailors now has just one), Vasilopoulos never really discusses the economics of clothing. How, for instance, does the cost of a good custom-made suit compare to a ready-to-wear one from a luxury brand? How much greater is the profit margin in the latter case? Seeing how hard Centofanti works even in his nineties, one presumes he's not getting rich. And yet, there are youngsters hoping to fill Centofanti's shoes: We meet an earnest young American who, even after getting a college degree, happily made himself the master tailor's protege and worked three years before he was even allowed to make a suit pattern.

Production Company: Orestes Films LLC
Director-Producer: Vicki Vasilopoulos
Directors of photography: David Gaynes, Christian Jacks, Andrew David Watson
Music: Chris Hajian
Editor: Sandrine Isambert
No rating, 96 minutes