The most surprising thing about Italian author Luca Guadagnino’s documentary about shoe fashion god figure Salvatore Ferragamo is how conventional it is.
With talking heads, archival footage, a narrator (Michael Stuhlbarg), and a linear narrative, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams is nothing short of flawless.
It’s unexpected because this is the same director who previously gave us Call Me by Your Name and, more recently, an excellent remake of the wildly conceptual supernatural horror film Suspiria.
But speaking to Guadagnino over a Zoom call, it’s easy to see why the director stripped his doc of almost all elaborate cinematic flourishes — reverence for his subject.
The filmmaker, who dubbed the legendary shoemaker as “Mr. Ferragamo” was clearly determined to respect a legacy that will endure well beyond the man’s death in 1960.
“Ferragamo wasn’t just a shoemaker, he was a dream shoemaker,” explains Guadagnino.
“And when it comes to a dream, it invests you all; it goes into the subconscious and you can see every corner of you in it.
“He was a real Renaissance man, he was able to think of things in a way that people didn’t think of – he’s a loner.”
Born the 11th of 14 children to a working-class family in the small village of Bonita, Ferragamo grew up fascinated by the shoemaker’s workshop beneath his parents’ home.
He dreamed of nothing else than taking up the profession himself, much to the chagrin of Mom and Dad, who, like everyone else in the village, considered shoemakers to be the lowest social class.
When he was a young boy, he undeterred making his first pair of shoes for his sister to wear to church when his parents realized that young Salvatore’s desire to make shoes was less a dream and more a calling .
Amazingly, at the tender age of 11, he was living alone in Naples and had almost mastered his craft.
From there, the film follows his journey to America as the rapid rise of Ferragamo’s career became intertwined with early Hollywood history.
The exotic curled-toe shoes worn by Douglas Fairbanks in 1924’s quiet daredevil The Thief of Baghdad were Ferragamo originals.
The film draws heavily on Ferragamo’s autobiography of the same name, which reveals such gems as the shoemaker discovering a very young Joan Crawford after he crowned her the winner of a best ankle contest.
The conversation heads mentioned above include Martin Scorsese and modern shoe kings Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin, but the film also combines Stuhlbarg’s narration, in which the actor actually only reads excerpts from the autobiography, and archival footage of Ferragamo’s own voice.
So it feels like the shoemaker rides along.
The end result is a film that accurately depicts the inner workings of an incredible mind.
Of course, that’s exactly what the director wanted to achieve.
“I think someone who has a genius, who has a talent, is someone who can find things that people don’t see,” says Guadagnino.
“I think[Ferragamo’s story]teaches us that great artists always take risks, big risks, and it’s about being willing to fail, I think that teaches us a lot, and I really believe in that.”
And Guadagnino knows something about taking big risks – his next film Bones and All is a coming-of-age romance with cannibalism.
It sees the director reunited with Call Me by Your Name star Timothee Chalamet and just received a nine-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
“Timothee is my friend, he’s my family, and an artist I adore and draw so much inspiration from,” Guadagnino enthuses.
“He’s such a vibrant character, I really love him, and for me to be able to . . . (do something with him) . . . it is a gift of my life.”