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ACMI Film Review: Men of the Cloth


Il Vivaio Dei Sarti – A Way of Life

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word – fashion? Well, the imagery of old men from simple Italian families with ancient scissors in one hand and fabric chalk the other, surrounded by cloth and good cheer is probably the last thing you would have thought of. As it is far from today’s gloss and glam of the runway and transient trends of fashion forward movements, “Men of the Cloth” leaves something truly honest and striking. This legacy and disappearing art of custom tailored suits is captured by film maker Vicki Vasilopoulos through a series of well arranged interviews, natural dialogue, personal historical photos and observations of client fittings between the master tailors Nino Corvato, Joe Centofanti and Checchino Fonticoli, all of Italian upbringing who have immigrated to the United States.

The feature opens with long shots of Ficarazzi, Sicily home to the master tailor and the hand held camera pans across the local town doing a brilliant work of inviting you in, as if you were a tourist on your way to meet their local craftsmen. The gentle minimalist score compliments the tranquility of this opening sequence reassuring you that this film will be about personal lives and personal passions, nothing fast paced, nor mind blowing, but something of the extraordinary from the heart of this trade.

“Men of the Cloth” provides great insight into the dedication these masters have for their craft and general disregard for the popular consensus that they are wasting their time and efforts on over looked details in today’s fast paced society. As their story sharing gives the majority of the film its weight, much credit needs to be attributed to the camera and editing. The camera acts as our curious eyes, as it cuts from a mid shot of their stores, to the close up of the stitch work before cutting to the client walking through the door. It is literally like you are there, right in the middle of their dedicated design process so organic that you forget you are watching a documentary and instead standing shoulder to shoulder as they retell their passion for perfection which consumes them.

Overall, at the heart of this documentary is that ‘experience is an invaluable education’ to which for the next ninety minutes tailoring is its pleasant feature that boldly criticizes how the world has compromised precious craftsmanship for convenience of mass production stripped of personality. As it concludes with the aging of the old world masters you are ironically not left with inspiration and hope (despite a feature of one young apprentice) but instead the air is tinged with the unknown from their lack of succession planning due to their obsession with perfecting their craft. Is it too late to grow the concept and significance of hand made tailored suits in the next generation? Maybe.

Bottom line – A film for the patient with a curiosity and respect to learn from craft masters.  

‘Men of the Cloth’ is apart of ACMI’s 2014 Fashion on Film season, to find out more

Reviewed by: Sandra Lee, July 2014     

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