Luca Guadagnino’s documentary, “Salvatore — Shoemaker of Dreams,” unveiled at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 6, succeeded in creating a captivating two-hour walk through history, profiling Ferragamo’s life against the background of events that marked the 20th century.
From immigration through Ellis Island to a nascent movie industry — first in California’s Santa Barbara then in Hollywood and the Great Depression to two world wars. So much so that Dana Thomas, the film’s screenwriter, believes that “this is not a fashion documentary, but a documentary on someone who happened to work in the fashion business.”
Ferragamo’s beloved shoes and the artisanal craftsmanship that he saw as the cornerstone of his namesake company are an essential part of the narrative throughout the movie, from the first scenes showing the actual making of a sequined pump to the reel of his storied designs — the platforms, the “invisible shoe,” or the “cage heel,” which he carefully patented in a pioneering move, before intellectual property became a key asset in fashion.
The documentary’s archival footage is riveting, whether it relates to Ferragamo’s own past or to general history — the early days of Hollywoodland as it was called in the Twenties — or excerpts of silent movies featuring Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Likewise for the images of Naples in the early 20th century, defined by Martin Scorsese as “another galaxy” at the time for someone born in Bonito, a small village about 60 miles away.
Of note: Ferragamo, the 11th of 14 children, returned to Bonito after his experience in Naples to learn the art of shoemaking, when he was only 12 years old and he was 16 when he moved to Boston to join one of his brothers working for Queen Quality Shoes — showing a determination that remained throughout his life.
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