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Valentino: The Last Emperor 

Legendary Italian designer Valentino Garavani celebrated the 45th anniversary of his dominant fashion house with a 40 million euro, three-day extravaganza staged at Rome's Colosseum, which is captured in Vanity Fair correspondent Matt Tyrnauer's Valentino: The Last Emperor.

  Tyrnauer was allowed access to Valentino's and longtime partner Giancarlo Giammetti's confidences and exquisite residences, private plane (with seats for their five pugs), 150-foot yacht and private parties. The film lavishly portrays Valentino as a grand auteur: hard-working, demanding, brilliant, opinionated, fussy. And while he dominated the couture side for more than four decades, his life and business partner ran the company that made them extraordinarily wealthy. Giammetti also shielded Valentino from the business side and interference of investors as fashion underwent dramatic art-versus-commerce transformations in the 1980s and '90s. "Their relationship is what the film is about," Tyrnauer says. "It's like a marriage, but it's so much more than a marriage. I have never seen two people closer." Their relationship was a part of Valentino's life that had long been discreetly omitted from the limelight.

  Without narration, the camera follows Valentino for two years as he, first, prepares for a show in Paris and then oversees plans for the grand anniversary. No element misses the designer's eye or judgment: the aura of light from a dress, whether props on a runway look like sand dunes or breasts, or body features ("The most disgusting thing in the world is seeing a woman's ankles when she walks away," he hisses. With his clothes, on the runways and in his luxurious lifestyle, Valentino demands that everything be flawless. And that's partially why he hated the film when it was completed. "In Venice at the (film festival) press conference, Valentino said, 'There are lots of things in this movie that I don't like. You see me as I am,'" Tyrnauer says. But the film drew a standing ovation and Valentino changed his mind. "He understands success. He appreciates that."

  Tyrnauer's film is an opulatent portrait of both an artist and a couple, who are the epitome of grace when Valentino accepts the French Legion of Honor, and are entertainingly snide when jabbing about each other's looks. Tyrnauer captures the grandeur of their lifestyle without losing sight of their personal warmth, passions and human moments. And he does so with enough restraint to let the audience feel like it's doing its own eavesdropping.

  Valentino is presented by the New Orleans Film Society. Tickets $8 general admission, $6 New Orleans Film Society members. — Will Coviello

Valentino: The Last Emperor

7:30 p.m. Fri.; 2:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; 2:30 p.m. Wed., Aug. 26

Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St., 891-2787; www.neworleansfilmfest.com



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