Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Richard Linklater's Untitled New Film Pushed to 2016, Might Direct Jennifer Lawrence Movie Richard Linklater's Untitled New Film Pushed to 2016, Might Direct Jennifer Lawrence Movie Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers 'Steve Jobs' Joins Fall Festival Contenders as NYFF Centerpiece Gala: What's Coming Up and What's Not (UPDATED) 'Steve Jobs' Joins Fall Festival Contenders as NYFF Centerpiece Gala: What's Coming Up and What's Not (UPDATED) Arthouse Audit: Is 'Phoenix' This Year's 'Ida'? 'Mr. Holmes' Stays Strong Arthouse Audit: Is 'Phoenix' This Year's 'Ida'? 'Mr. Holmes' Stays Strong Friday Box Office: Sandler's 'Pixels' Gets Mixed Response, 'Paper Towns,' 'Southpaw' Not Far Behind Friday Box Office: Sandler's 'Pixels' Gets Mixed Response, 'Paper Towns,' 'Southpaw' Not Far Behind Scott Foundas Explains Why He's Leaving Film Criticism--Again--for Amazon Studios Scott Foundas Explains Why He's Leaving Film Criticism--Again--for Amazon Studios Congrats to Monica Bellucci: She's Making History Congrats to Monica Bellucci: She's Making History Broad Green Dates 'Knight of Cups' and Two More Releases Broad Green Dates 'Knight of Cups' and Two More Releases Watch: The Secret Ingredient to David Lynch's Disorienting Cinema Watch: The Secret Ingredient to David Lynch's Disorienting Cinema First Look: 'No' Director Pablo Larraín Channels 'Neruda' with Gael García Bernal First Look: 'No' Director Pablo Larraín Channels 'Neruda' with Gael García Bernal Is 'The Revenant' the Most Hellish Shoot of All Time? Is 'The Revenant' the Most Hellish Shoot of All Time? Broad Green Enters Long-Term Home Video Deal with Universal for Burgeoning Slate Broad Green Enters Long-Term Home Video Deal with Universal for Burgeoning Slate Gabriel García Márquez Documentary Coming Soon (Trailer) Gabriel García Márquez Documentary Coming Soon (Trailer) Watch 'SPECTRE' Trailer: James Bond Meets the Author of His Pain Watch 'SPECTRE' Trailer: James Bond Meets the Author of His Pain 'BoJack Horseman,' 'Rick and Morty,' and Our Love/Hate Relationship with TV 'BoJack Horseman,' 'Rick and Morty,' and Our Love/Hate Relationship with TV Why I Can't Wait to See 'Crimson Peak,' Guillermo del Toro's Sumptuous Period Thriller (VIDEO) Why I Can't Wait to See 'Crimson Peak,' Guillermo del Toro's Sumptuous Period Thriller (VIDEO) First Look at Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as a Gay Couple in 'Freeheld' First Look at Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as a Gay Couple in 'Freeheld' Why Kevin Costner Paid for 'Black or White' (New Trailer, Sneak Preview Q & A) Why Kevin Costner Paid for 'Black or White' (New Trailer, Sneak Preview Q & A) Gabriel García Márquez and Akira Kurosawa Talk Film, Writing and 'Rhapsody in August' in 1991 Gabriel García Márquez and Akira Kurosawa Talk Film, Writing and 'Rhapsody in August' in 1991

Paolo Sorrentino Talks Oscar-Winner 'The Great Beauty' and What's Next (TRAILER)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 4, 2014 at 1:06AM

I first discovered the cinema of Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino in 2008 when I saw "Il Divo" at Cannes, which also stars the incandescent Toni Servillo. Even though the biopic did a deep dive into the arcane Machiavellian politics of Italy, the movie was utterly accessible because Servillo carried you through as former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.
0
'The Great Beauty' director Paolo Sorrentino
'The Great Beauty' director Paolo Sorrentino
Toni Servillo in "The Great Beauty."
Toni Servillo in "The Great Beauty."

I first discovered the cinema of Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino in 2008 when I saw "Il Divo" at Cannes, which stars the incandescent Toni Servillo as former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Even though the biopic did a deep dive into decades of arcane Machiavellian politics in Italy, the movie was utterly accessible because Servillo carried you through. My second encounter with Sorrentino was also at Cannes, with his first English-language film "This Must be the Place," which features a riveting performance from Sean Penn as an aging expat rocker who returns to his roots in America after his father dies. But the movie didn't quite come together--Sorrentino's English has definitely improved since then.

When I spoke to the filmmaker about his latest triumph, eventual foreign Oscar-winner "The Great Beauty" (TOH! review here), he did have a translator on hand, but he handled some of answers himself. The movie stars Servillo as a jaded Rome journalist with writer's block whose observations about the gorgeously decadent culture around him cut with a knife. He is a social but lonely man who finds himself moved and inflamed by an unexpected relationship with a beautiful and mysterious woman. Sorrentino's effective use of Rome as a stunning visual setting has raised comparisons to such Fellini films as "La Dolce Vita." The director, who is 43, begs to argue. 

Next up, he's working in English again with Michael Caine in "In the Future" which starts shooting in May.

This must be the place poster

Anne Thompson: "Il Divo" led to Sean Penn, who approached you at Cannes in 2008 when he was jury president. You came up with "This Must Be The Place" for him. That must have been a tricky challenge because you were coming to America and didn't speak English. Talk about your journey on that film.

Paolo Sorrentino: For me it was a great adventure because I grew up with American cinema, so for me to work in the United States, in the middle of America, in the midwest, in forgotten places, that was my first time. Before doing the movie, I saw just New York and San Francisco. The first time I came to LA was after "Il Divo" so I didn't know the states. For me it was a great adventure and also, I was very eager to work with somebody like Sean Penn. He's a great actor and I was very eager to face a stronger personality. It was a challenge that I needed to do. In my experience, of all the people that I've met in this world of cinema, Sean Penn is the one who best knows cinema from every direction. He's a smart person, he has a knowledge of cinema -- not of movies, but of the practical things of film. I wasn't even aware of how much he was teaching me.

I admire "The Great Beauty," from the amazing opening party sequence onward; was that the most challenging scene to shoot?

It was challenging because there were probably 300 people. I had a choreographer to work with a few of the dancers. It was a scene that was created with the impression that I've had from the people themselves. It was really the actors and the extras who defined themselves without being overly aware of how it was constructed.

Did you use long takes? 

I like to do long, unseparated takes, and I have many of them. But in this one, there are cuts. I didn't have the chance to do a longer shot until the end of the movie. Before the titles, it's a six or seven-minute shot on the Tiber River.

Every movie has one crucial sequence, the one that is the center of the film. Is there one for you in this film?

In this movie, the crucial moments are the beginning and the end. The beginning, with the scene of the dancer, summarizes the movie. The end is the turning point, when he starts to think about what he wants to write. Also the philosophy of the movie is in the end. The most important thing that I want to say. The main character is remembering the girl when he was young. That's a moment, for me, that is very crucial.

What do you think the movie is trying to say?

Anything. Too many things. The movie is trying to say that everybody can find a form of beauty in all the moments of his life and also in the moments where there is the vulgarity, the squalor. If you try to go out for a moment in your life, you can see the beauty everywhere in your own life.

Talk about the great scene where the woman challenges the journalist about writing a second book and he destroys her.

It's an uncomfortable scene, where everyone is trying to use their words to fight against hypocrisy without really understanding that hypocrisy is something that we need in order to live together.

You've worked with Toni Servillo in many of your movies. Is he your alter-ego in this film, as the writer and the artist?

In this movie, probably yes. Not in "Il Divo." A lot of the reasons that move me to write or make a movie are based upon a deconstruction of the relationship, or lack of a relationship, with my father. Toni, as an actor, is a way for me to explore that relationship with my father across these films, specifically because he has that age distance. He's kind of like a paternal figure. Sevillo is 54 and I am 43, so it's a tough question to answer. When I psychoanalyze myself too much, then I start to get scared and not actually explore it as far as I'd like to. I transfer a lot the analysis of the relationship that I had with my father into Toni.

This article is related to: Paolo Sorrentino, Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty, Interviews, Awards Season Roundup, Academy Awards, Awards


E-Mail Updates








Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.