By Chet Domitz.
Following his dream, Ferragamo was home wherever he was and on whatever continent. He created his own world. “
The 2022 Provincetown International Film Festival was the site of the North American premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams. Guadagnino was in attendance to introduce the film and to receive the festival’s Filmmaker on the Edge Award. He was in Boston at the time filming Challengers, a romantic drama set in the world of professional tennis. He had then, only months prior, finished filming Bones and All, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and for which he won Best Director. The Provincetown Film Society, which organized PIFF, was fortunate this busy director was close by and that he made time for Provincetown. Guadagnino was one of the headliners and Salvatore closed the festival its finale evening. In addition to the filmmaker himself, his subject, Salvatore Ferragamo, offered its own celebrity appeal. Based on Ferragamo’s 1957 autobiography of the same title, Guadagnino and his script writer, fashion journalist Dana Thomas, used the designer’s own words to narrate the story. Guadagnino incorporated recordings Ferragamo had made with his own voice and a voiceover by Michael Stuhlbarg reading excerpts from the autobiography. He also included Ferragamo family photos, home movies footage, and interviews with cultural authorities, such as Manolo Blahnik, Martin Scorsese, and fashion critic Suzy Menkes. Though Salvatore is a documentary, it is classic Guadagnino in the decisions he made in telling the story of this self-made fashion icon. In particular, the film’s narrative is punctuated by moments of the designer’s self-determination and geographic relocation. All told with Guadagnino’s artistic flare. Ultimately, Salvatore is a story about an artist by an artist with a message to other artists and their admirers about talent, creativity, and self-will.
Guadagnino follows the ups and downs of Ferragamo’s career, starting with his upbringing in Bonito, Italy. The obstacles always seemed small in comparison to the designer’s talents and need to create. From his parents’ hesitancy to him being a cobbler, the crash of 1929, bankruptcy, and the rations of the Second World War, no hurdle held him back. At times, the challenges actually led to innovation and some of his signature designs. What is noteworthy is that Ferragamo’s career trajectory followed a geographic trajectory: from a small town in Italy to Ellis Island, to Southern California, and then to his final home in Florence. Contained within this movement, upward and westward, is the American Dream. While speaking about Ferragamo and simultaneously offering advice to the film’s audience, Martin Scorsese states, “You don’t find yourself; you create yourself.” He also talks about the appeal of Southern California that drew Ferragamo there in addition to Hollywood. Despite his joke about mudslides, earthquakes, and fires, Scorsese acknowledges that people come to California for the weather and that the state is a western terminus, indicating a real legendary movement following the sun. And in California, Ferragamo honed his artistry even more. After several years there and becoming “shoemaker to the stars,” he retuned to Italy. Thus, the story of Ferragamo’s life is not only of an artist following his dream, but of someone relocating from one continent to another to do so and ultimately returning to his Italian roots.
Back in Italy, Ferragamo felt incomplete despite all the success. The one thing he lacked was a “family of my own.” Salvatore includes an interview with his widow Wanda, who, in addition to talking about the company and their family, describes her and Ferragamo’s brief courtship and how he was her beloved. Wanda becomes the other love in this story, in addition to Ferragamo’s love of making shoes. There is a scene Guadagnino shot of an open American landscape passing by as if seen from a train, accompanied by music evoking the director’s recent love story Call Me by Your Name (2017). Guadagnino used the visual of landscape and that soundtrack not only to create a sense of place and mood, but to express the sense of belonging and freedom Ferragamo declared to have felt en route to California. In Florence, the love of family life and of family, the fullness of it, the director evoked differently but to similar effect: home movie clips of family members at leisure, playing on a beach, walking arm-in-arm in the sun, or Wanda playacting as a model outside in the afternoon light, showing off a dress. These final scenes do not acknowledge any political backdrop. History as it was happening during Ferragamo’s life is addressed only in relation to his story. In general, the stories Guadagnino tells are like that. Sometimes history is just a side conversation or less. And Salvatore is no different, especially toward the end. The focus is on the designer, his vision and passion, his commitment, the innovative designs and love of what he was doing, and family. Following his dream, Ferragamo was home wherever he was and on whatever continent. He created his own world.
Before the screening at PIFF, Anne Hubbell, the Executive Director of the Provincetown Film Society, interviewed Guadagnino. She asked if there were any similarities between him and Ferragamo, and he obviated drawing any parallels. Later, he declared Ferragamo to have been a “genius.” Guadagnino also mentioned in advance the CGI ending to give credit to the Oscar-nominated stop-motion artist PES, with whom he collaborated for the film’s final scene. After the clips of Ferragamo’s family enjoying the sun, enjoying one another and the life the family patriarch provided them, there is a fantastical indulgence of CGI dancing shoes, Busby Berkeley style. The Rainbow, the Marilyn Monroe, the Wedge, many other styles in different colors and materials, all radiating on a stage of hierarchical concentric circles, as if seen from a suspended camera zooming in and out. Despite the sharp contrast in technology with the Ferragamo family movie clips that preceded it, this CGI moment had a lot in common with them. Guadagnino at 50 is having his moment in the sun.
Chet Domitz is an independent scholar based in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He studied the History of Art at The Ohio State University, where his ventures into film included Bollywood cinema and the films of Satyajit Ray.