Rating: * * * *
Verdict: A fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary life.
Directed and produced by Vanity Fair magazine special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer, this intimate documentary about the last two years of Valentino Garavani's reign at the Italian fashion house he established in the early 1960s is resplendent with old school charm, tantrums, tasteful extravagance and the struggle of art against commerce.
Compared to fashion documentary The September Issue, which was more about magazine publishing than fashion itself, Valentino: The Last Emperor is all about the designer, his opulent fashion style, and his relationship with long-term business partner Giancarlo Giammetti.
With more than 250 hours of footage shot between 2005 and 2007, Tyrnauer's fly-on-the-wall style of filming captures the tense preparation for what will become Valentino's final haute couture show, his receiving the Legion d'honneur, and the three-day extravaganza in Rome celebrating his 45-year career.
Throughout the documentary 75-year-old Valentino refuses to engage in conjecture about his possible retirement and at first it seems as if he truly believes that Valentino the brand could not survive without him. As the film continues, it becomes apparent just what a great showman Valentino is, even his tantrums are pitch-perfect performances to get his own way, and you do wonder if this documentary was just a part of Valentino and Giancarlo's business exit strategy.
Regardless of their intentions, Valentino and Giancarlo give us a wonderful insight into their world of high-end fashion. Giancarlo is the businessman who allows Valentino to concentrate on just being the artist. Inspired by all things beautiful, the golden era of cinema and the many powerful women who don his creations, Valentino, also known as the Sun King, is vain, poised, immaculately presented, and lives an eye-poppingly luxurious life.
There are glimpses of Valentino's many residences, his collection of modern art, the Mediterranean-based super yacht, and the private jet. Valentino has a good sense of humour, but the comedians in this documentary are the five pug dogs that accompany him everywhere.
If this all sounds vacuous, it is; but Valentino is so deliciously charming when he quips "this was the best thing for me to create and design dresses. I always did this, I am not capable to do anything else. I am a disaster at everything else," you can't imagine him being any other way.
Valentino: The Last Emperor is well shot and engaging, and grants Giancarlo Giammetti the recognition he probably feels he deserves for his part in Valentino's success. Perhaps the most appealing thing about this documentary though is being able to view behind the scenes of a world very few have access to.
Cast: Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Running time: 95 mins