The most cinematic moment of the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival didn’t happen on the big screen. After the showing of Valentino: The Last Emperor—a documentary spanning the period between the designer’s seventieth birthday and his final couture show—the man himself stood in a box seat high above the cheering crowd. A single tear ran down his face. It was a muted, stirring moment for one of the world’s greatest living couturiers—and not one famed for his restraint. (He is, after all, given to pronouncements like “an evening dress that reveals a woman’s ankles while walking is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.”)
The film, on the other hand, is fashion fantasy on full blast. Director Matt Tyrnauer captures the air-kissing excesses of the fashion world, including Valentino’s Sunkist tan, over-the-top mega-mansions and preposterously pampered pets—one of his five pugs even wears diamond earrings! But then, just as the doc begins to resemble Project Runway gone mad, it dips into a deeper look at the ever-evolving luxury biz. This, coupled with a tender peek into Valentino’s forty-five-year relationship with life and business partner Giancarlo Giammetti, make for a humanizing look at a complicated man. By the end, you just may shed a tear or two as well.