“Anyone can do anything in America” is not a novel idea. But it’s one that comes into mind whenever one passes through that country’s forests and fields by car or train. Many settlers and immigrants had this idea from generations back. And one of those people included Salvatore Ferragamo, a shoemaker who followed his brothers from Italy to California. Luca Guadagnino, attempts his best in capturing the life of the shoemaker. He mainly covers the four most important decades of his life. He tracks Ferragamo’s rise in Hollywood. But key parts of Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams do their best to show how he persevered despite of the several tribulations he faces.
One of those tribulations included a car accident that affected Ferragamo’s leg and shoe size. But even he can find a workaround despite of acts of God or man. In his hospital bed he drew plans for a machine that can bring back his leg and feet to their former shape which apparently worked. This temporary moment of weakness sparked his creativity and these plans became patents both for unique shoe designs and non-shoe related inventions. Guadagnino has a lot of information to work with, as he uses archive images. And Michael Stuhlbarg’s narration as Ferragamo to contextualize these timeless images. Martin Scorsese, Manolo Blahnik, Grace Coddington, and Christian Louboutin also appear in interviews.
I probably wrote this in another fashion doc but fashion was one of the interests I had that was competing with film before I eventually chose the latter. Shoemaker of Dreams has a lot of information that I as a wannabe fashionista knew nothing about, including that he predated great European fashion houses. This documentary could have been just a display of one iconic shoe – I think he has like four – after another. But its approach to make its viewers feel that history feels haphazard. Stuhlbarg’s narration, for instance, clashes with Ferragamo’s actual voice. The documentary needed to make a choice between one voice or another instead of including both and doing so for reasons that elude me.
Another thing that lessens Shoemaker‘s impact is how it makes Ferragamo’s challenges feel too light. It’s like, for instance, that he got over his accident too quickly. Or that the risks in doing Italian style craftsmanship to America several times had some naysayers. But his supporters got him going again. Shoemaker of Dreams, bafflingly enough, has the lightest approach in certain subjects. A man having to work in a fascist country facing embargoes feels easy somehow. The documentary also frames his lack of a wife as his final challenge in life. That makes for a good ending for a documentary. But there’s still 20 more minutes of it which seems like bloat, and no one should use ‘bloat’ while describing a fashion documentary.
Watch Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. This also comes out to more theatres later this month.