Here is something I learned, among many other things, while watching Luca Guadagnino’s delightful documentary “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams”: Every movie should end with a shoe ballet. It’s entirely appropriate that this film, which examines the life and work of Italian-born shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo, should conclude with a whirling Busby Berkeley-ish rainbow (created by stop-motion animator PES) of pumps pirouetting, wedges waltzing, ballet flats boogieing, sandals sambaing. But really, I’m trying to think of a movie — or anything in life, for that matter — that couldn’t be improved by this addition; nothing springs immediately to mind.
Even without that glorious final sequence, “Salvatore” is a pleasure for anyone who loves shoes and/or good movies. Guadagnino, whose gloriously swoony feature films include “Call Me By Your Name,” “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash,” here revels in the real-life story of a man who knew his passion from the very beginning.
Born in 1898 in a small Italian town, he was fascinated by shoes from a very early age, hanging out at the local cobbler and crafting shoes for his sisters at home. At 11, he spent a year in Naples studying shoemaking; upon his return, he opened a shop in his parents’ front hallway. By 17, he was headed to America, bringing with him a few changes of clothing, a salami, some cheese, a small handful of lira and no English.
In California, his dreams quickly became a reality: working in the film business, crafting shoes for stars like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, and making friends with Rudolph Valentino, who would drop by Ferragamo’s home for spaghetti dinners. Cecil B. DeMille noted, of the footwear young Ferragamo crafted for his Westerns, “the West would have been conquered earlier if they’d had boots like these.”
Guadagnino tells his story through a combination of voice-over readings from Ferragamo’s 1955 memoir, an elegant parade of talking heads from the fashion and film world, publicity stills (in which Ferragamo, Prince Charming-like, slips a shoe onto a waiting foot belonging to the likes of Audrey Hepburn) and an array of home movies and audio recordings from the Ferragamo family, some of it a century old. We learn about how his careful study of anatomy and balance helped him create women’s shoes that were famously comfortable, and watch as contemporary workers at a Ferragamo factory lovingly hand-craft a pair of sparkly red pumps that look ready to click their heels together and fly to Oz.
His was a remarkable life, though a relatively short one: Ferragamo died in 1960, aged just 62. The artist is long gone; the art, on feet all over the world, lives on.
'SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS'
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Rating: PG (for smoking and a suggestive reference)
Running time: 1:49
How to watch: Now in theaters