As frothy as the eponymous subject's evening gowns, debuting director (and Vanity Fair journo) Matt Tyrnauer's observational docu frequently plays like an extended Fashion Channel segment crossed with "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

As frothy as the eponymous subject’s evening gowns, debuting director (and Vanity Fair journo) Matt Tyrnauer’s observational docu “Valentino: The Last Emperor” frequently plays like an extended Fashion Channel segment crossed with “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Touching on the haute couture industry’s changing market pressures –which led to Valentino Garavani’s retirement shortly after the two-year shoot — gives some depth to the pic’s adulatory tone, but what adds heart, and humor, is the interplay between the legendary couturier and Giancarlo Giammetti, his longtime partner in business and life. Extended fest play should segue into international broadcast.

Heavier on la dolce vita than the creation of couture, the pic contains a few intriguing peeks into Valentino’s atelier, where lab-coat-clad seamstresses hand-stitch his expensive designs. A gorgeous retrospective at Rome’s Ara Pacis museum reminds that they are works of art. The most over-the-top moments are from an extravaganza celebrating his 45th anniversary in fashion, set at an ancient temple site overlooking the Colosseum, boasting fireworks and flying models. Breathless editing and Fellini-redux score by Nino Rota reinforce the feeling of the subject’s gilded world. Handheld camerawork sometimes feels too hyperactive.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Production

An Acolyte Films production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Matt Kapp, Matt Tynauer. Executive producer, Carter Burden III. Co-producer, Frederic Tcheng. Co-executive producer, Adam Leff. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Tom Hurwitz; editor, Bob Eisenhardt; co-editor, Frederic Tcheng; music, Nino Rota. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons Events), Aug. 28, 2008. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) English, Italian, French dialogue. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Matteo Marzotto

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