Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Densely structured and thorough."

"He valued courage... he practiced it every day when he drove his car."

Few men have summed up Italian masculinity like Gianni Agnelli, wealthy industrialist, war hero, football club owner, famous playboy and fashion inspiration for James Bond. His is a huge story to take on, and director Nick Hooker's success with this documentary hinges on finding the personal elements that bring it all into perspective.

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He does so with the aid of an impressive collection of interviewees, including Valentino Garavani, Jackie Rogers, Roger Cohen and Henry Kissinger. Agnelli's niece Diane von Furstenberg shares her perspective, as do several former members of Agnelli's staff. During the first two thirds of the film, the quantity of praise with which the now deceased Fiat magnate is showered becomes a little vulgar, but the latter part examines a darker period in Agnelli's life and provides a more challenging narrative that seems to get us closer to the real man.

The very superficiality of some of the interview material is itself intriguing because of what it says about the world of which he was a part, flitting from one fabulous location to another in the company of the international jet set, lording it over the women in his life and demonstrating a delight in physical risk-taking that suggests he was testing fate, trying to find out if it would bend before his will the way people did. Even his frieds note that he could be cruel, but treat it almost as a virtue. There is a sense of nostalgia for a world in which a few individuals had such excessive power that they could live without a care and treat others in any way they wished - something which, though it was beyond their reach, others could dream of. Yet beyond this sense of joyous amorality there is a focus on Agnelli's seemingly genuine passion for his country, and the politics that lay behind many of his choices in the troubled post-war years.

Along with the interviews the film features archive material from news programmes, recently recovered Super 8 footage, and a wealth of newspaper clippings and personal photos. We transition between public and private worlds through portraits and photos clearly posed to convey a casual air, these layers inviting us to focus on Agnelli as a performer. A section devoted to fashion empahsises his talent for making calculated choices to suggest an ease which seems to have been less and less present in the reality of his later life. As the film details his struggle to find the right heir, it implies that he recognised himself as one of the last of a dying breed.

Full of the seductive glamour that Agnelli's admirers would expect, this is a densely structured and thorough documentary which manages to do more than simply repeat what the Italian public already knows. There are places where it could do with being pared down, but overall it's a solid contribution to the history of the period.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2017
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The story of Gianni Agnelli, the legendary Italian industrialist and playboy, as told by family, friends, lovers, professional confidantes and rivals.

Director: Nick Hooker

Year: 2018

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: US


Venice 2017

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