There are many icons of haute couture, but only one that can leave such a piercing mark on your psyche and wittingly convince you that you have intimately witnessed the work of a master. Valentino: The Last Emperor is not a hyperbolic, overrated or tacky documentary of passing trends like many others, but rather a unique, abiding and eye-opening glance at the boisterous life of a legendary fashion designer who vehemently seeks pleasure only to be disappointed by its fleeting and faulty nature.
How many times do you get the chance to get personal with one of the world’s most famous renowned fashion idols? Journalist Matt Tyrnauer is interested in bringing the viewer closer to Garavani’s hectic and private inner thoughts and struggles, even if it means encroaching on the most raucous, confidential elements of the Italian designer’s life. The director not only offers us an exclusive peek into the business and love quarrels of the great Valentino, but also an in-depth look at his motivations, labor and lifelong legacy. Even if you are not an ardent fan of him or even a connoisseur, you will certainly find this documented piece of raw footage enlightening or at the very least intriguing, whether you have struggled with depression and the pangs of success or not.
Whenever Valentino makes an appearance at the end of a show, there is no fulfilled, satisfied expression on his face, no glorious, entitled gestures or affection shown towards the audience. But somehow, despite his unobtrusive demeanor and the number of world-renowned celebrities who accompany him at his events, Valentino’s elusiveness and dark, engrossing charisma make him the star of every festival he attends. There is something gracefully tragic about his consistent reaction to fame – he acknowledges it, he revels in it occasionally, but he does not abuse it or take it for granted. That being said, Tyrnauer’s film does not shy away from parading the designer’s staggering opulence. With countless luxurious mansions spread across the world (from London, New York and Paris to Tuscany and Gstaad), private jets and considerably large, extravagant yachts, Valentino seems to have it all. And yet, the movie tactfully remarks the fact that material possessions are not quite what they are cracked up to be. Since the man’s yearning cannot be quenched, every new possession, lavishing collection and exhilarating event turns into another bleak, unfulfilling addition. Coming from any other source or from someone who is not as rich, the underlining message of Valentino: The Last Emperor might have seemed trite, cliché or even unfeasible. But Valentino’s insatiable longing is patently visible on screen. And pairing it with various instances of his flamboyant lifestyle is Tyrnauer’s silent genius at work.
Filmed over the course of two years, the most gripping aspect of the documentary is the sincere, unfiltered look into Valentino’s enduring relationship with his trustworthy business partner and former lover, Giancarlo Giammetti. Although there is rare footage of Princess Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy, George Clooney and many others scattered throughout the film, nothing comes close to the interaction between Giammetti and Valentino. After their romantic affair began to wither, the two still continued their collaboration professionally and have not been apart for more than a month in the past four decades. Although their relationship is unique and captivating, Tyrnauer does not offer the couple the courtesy of turning off his camera when the two are in disagreement or even at each other’s throats. As such, little jabs, insults, heated arguments and full-blown tantrums are omnipresent. However, one thing becomes apparent – Valentino would not have become an emperor without the financial prowess and continued support of the beloved Giammetti.
Overlapping breathtaking experiences, seemingly bottomless wealth and a deep sense of emptiness, Valentino: The Last Emperor is almost a psychological case study of anhedonia. Although Tyrnauer ostentatiously displays material abundance, he does not glamorize it or let the viewer indulge in it for too long without a bittersweet reminder of its limited effects. “I wanted to show who I am, because I couldn’t care less” – Valentino states in response to his film – and through that offers an irreplaceable masterpiece which is not so much a fashion documentary as it is a vulnerable, candid glimpse into the crude life of a guru-like figure.