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Valentino: The Last Emperor

Clothes make the man: bio-pic of fashion designer Valentino

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Matt Tyrnauer's breezy documentary catches up with Italian fashion designer Valentino, as the last of the fabled signature couturiers celebrates his 45th (and possibly) last year in business. Fashion fans will thrill to backstage peeks, as Valentino creates still more impossibly beautiful haute couture gowns, each hand-stitched by highly skilled seamstresses. Along the way, there are glimpses of a glamorous high life: a chateau here, a villa there, a brace of pampered pugs, a yacht, a Gstaad ski chalet, fresh flowers everywhere -- and yes, Valentino even employs a major-domo! The fluff, while fascinating, is anchored by two weightier threads: Valentino's nearly life-long partnership with Giancarlo Giammetti, the canny businessman to Valentino's dreamy, temperamental artist; and the fate of the fashion line today, where even haute couture is a corporate asset, not an art. Tyrnauer sets the film up in an awkward flashback structure that does newcomers no favors; in fact, much of Valentino assumes a viewer's foreknowledge of both the designer and the previous half-century of fashion history. But, oh, those gowns! In English, and Italian and French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., May 29.

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