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'Valentino: The Last Emperor'

Legendary couture designer Valentino Garavani is as distant and guarded as he is tan. Which is to say . . . very. So this documentary, chronicling two years leading up to his spectacular 45th anniversary gala in 2007 by the Colosseum in Rome, is as much about the brand and harsh realities of the fashion biz as the man himself. Retirement rumors swirl and corporate takeovers threaten, as Valentino hits Rome, Paris, Venice, Gstaad. We peek into his stately mansions, his yacht, and meet his five pugs, celebrity fans, a cranky head seamstress and plotting execs.

The surprise star is Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino's partner (in business and life) for decades, the man behind the icon. Giammetti is there to absorb the diva's rants, remind him how they met and (at one point) suggest, ever so delicately, to dial back the tan. "A little less wouldn't hurt."

But where are the dresses? Great foodie films have compelling kitchen sequences. Even "Sex and the City" has its wedding gown montage. Yet director Matt Tyrnauer offers mere glimpses of couture - a fitting here, shots of hand-stitched seams there. "Project Runway" fans (this film's key demographic) may grumble. The pugs are funny, but the dresses are astounding and deserve more screen time.

PLOT Documentary about one of fashion's last geniuses, directed by Vanity Fair correspondent Matt Tyrnauer.

LENGTH 1:36

PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington (Tyrnauer will introduce the film tonight before showings at 5, 7:15 and 9:20.)

BOTTOM LINE Unprecedented access to a living legend, but, mamma mia, how about a few more shots of the dresses?

RATING Unrated

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