The world of high fashion gets a pleasant if chiffon-thin closeup in “The Director: An Evolution in Three Acts.” The director, in this case, is Gucci’s high-powered creative director, Frida Giannini, who comes off here as shrewd, formidable and professionally exacting, yet also agreeable and mild-mannered — qualities that make her, if not the most scintillating of camera subjects, then a refreshing example of stardom at its most self-effacing. Affording plenty of surface pleasures but few real insights into Giannini’s artistry, this second collaboration between producer James Franco and helmer Christina Voros (following their far more provocative BDSM documentary “Kink”) is a genteel trifle designed primarily for the delectation of hardcore fashion mavens.
An early glimpse of Giannini chatting with Anna Wintour, the infamous Vogue editrix profiled in 2009’s “The September Issue,” raises unmet expectations that “The Director” will prove to be a similarly juicy look at an iconic fashion-world diva. But Giannini, a blonde beauty who projects cool reserve but little trace of hauteur, isn’t one for drama. Ever since she became the fashion house’s chief creative force in 2006, her signature has been one of restraint and respect for tradition, embracing the chic and the sensual while avoiding the brazenly sexual imagery and self-promoting flourishes that characterized predecessor Tom Ford’s regime.
Little of this background material has made it into Voros’ studiously polite film, which instead glosses lightly over Giannini’s working methods. Per its title, the docu is structured in three parts, each centered around a different collection as well as a somewhat vague thematic focus: the Gucci archives that provide Giannini with many of her design inspirations (“The Past”); the growing importance of China, whose demand for luxury brands is transforming the entire industry (“The Future”); and finally Giannini herself (“The Present”), with discreet forays into her background and personal life. Filming coincided with the 2012 announcement that she and Gucci CEO Patrizio Di Marco were expecting a baby, although details of their office romance are kept under wraps.
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Like most fashion docs, “The Director” offers much for couture enthusiasts to gawk at but has trouble illuminating the creative process; it’s far easier to put colors and textures onscreen than to convey a sense of taste and aesthetic sensibility. Yet if Giannini’s process remains somewhat inscrutable, it’s hard not to admire her attitude, especially in an extended section devoted to her tireless work on a menswear collection. When an aspiring young Gucci boy walks too quickly down a practice runway, she takes the time to give him some patient instruction. It’s a touching moment — and, in a film that spotlights a powerful woman leaving her mark on a largely male-dominated industry, a quietly revealing one.
Voros’ decision to shoot some of her footage in sizzling black-and-white adds an atmosphere of vintage Italian glamour, while editor Filippo Conz often superimposes images to achieve a seductive layering effect; the mood-setting soundtrack is omnipresent but generally unobtrusive. Franco (who was named “the face of Gucci” in 2008) makes an obligatory appearance early on, engaging Giannini in an aimless but mercifully brief conversation about the stifling uniformity of men’s fashions.