The Emperor's Clothes

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In 2004, Vanity Fair correspondent Matt Tyrnauer wrote an article about legendary designer Valentino Garavani and his business and life partner Giancarlo Giametti that disclosed their relationship in a public way that had not been broached in their four decades together. The two liked the article, and several years later agreed to let him make a film about them. But neither side knew what to expect.

Tyrnauer wanted to make an observational film, so he started the project without a story. Valentino and Giametti agreed, but seemed to have low expectations, Trynauer said in an interview with Gambit. "They got nervous when they realized something would go forward. About a year in, they saw it, and our relationship changed."

Tyrnauer insisted that they sign an agreement giving him final say on content. Eventually they agreed. And when the film came out, Valentino hated it.

As a designer, Valentino had been at the top of the fashion world for more than four decades. He had dressed European royalty, Jacqueline Onassis and contemporary stars including Gwyneth Paltrow. Valentino and Giametti became extremely wealthy, as evidenced in the film at their many lavish homes, their plane, their 152-foot yacht, etc. But as the 45th anniversary of their couture company approached, a corporate takeover was underway. It fueled rumors that Valentino would retire rather than cede control.

Tyrnauer's cameras follow Valentino and Giametti over two years, concluding with a stunning 40 million euro party in Rome to mark the company anniversary. Viewers watch Valentino working with seamstresses and models in his studio, entertaining guests, directing his fashion shows, conferring with Giametti, planning the anniversary party, etc. Tyrnauer had enough access to capture Valentino behind the scenes -sniping about dresses, trading barbs with Giametti, walking away from the cameras, threatening to walk away from the film. It was the "real" Valentino that he didn't like captured on film. But when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival, it drew a standing ovation. And success and adoration are two things Valentino has always enjoyed.

Valetino: The Last Emperor is an excellent film, capturing the brilliance, imperiousness and temper of Valentino as well as his personable and human side. One need not care about fashion to enjoy it, rather the film portrays Valentino as an artist and impresario, and he's a very compelling figure. The New Orleans Film Society screens Valentino at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Prytania Theatre. There are 2:30 p.m. matinees on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.

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