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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.
'The Great Beauty'
'The Great Beauty'

I'm curious about your being on the Oscar trail. What are your observations about this process?

I've relied a lot on people who are experts more so than I am, to get the film seen by the right people, but it's really hard to talk about my thoughts now because I'm still right in the middle of this really fast-moving, beautiful dream, or carousel. I need some time to reflect on it once I'm out of it because I'm still part of it and it's wonderful.

You're carrying the banner for your country for the first time in a few years.

The movie won at the European Film Awards, and the Golden Globes.

Part of the visual joy of "The Great Beauty" is how you film Rome. How did you take advantage of the city as a location?

Rome is a very beautiful city. I live there as a tourist without a return ticket. I wanted to transfer the point-of-view that I have with Rome into this main character who's also, like me, not from Rome, adding that observational quality about the beauty of the city. I wanted to show how incredibly creative and constructive Italians can be when they put their minds to it, as represented by the monuments.

What films inspired you? It feels original. People say Fellini, but I say original.

I agree with you. I didn't have any references for this movie. In "Il Divo," there was reference to Fellini and nobody recognized the inspiration. For this movie, I didn't have Fellini in mind from a visual point of view. But people say it's Fellini. It doesn't bother me. He's my favorite director.

The way you handle the tragic love story is very opaque. You leave mystery. Why? (SPOILER ALERT)

I wanted the relationship to develop in a way that's quite simple and natural between them, and that is quite different from how he has to be in these relationships that are very artificial.  By interrupting this relationship because she dies, it's sort of a moment that creates an obstacle for him reflecting on his life but is also the genesis for him to be able to reflect on his life.

Did you use particular places in Rome that were hard to film or required permission?

Yes. But I actually didn't even get access to some historical buildings.

Some of it's real and created? Where did you find that amazing apartment that overlooks the Coliseum?

Most of it is real. That's true, come to Rome and I'll show it you. It was empty and I put in the furniture and plants. It's an apartment they are selling.

Why shoot in 35mm?

For several reasons. From a visual point-of-view, I prefer 35mm. Digital improves a lot but it has something too perfect for my taste. I have done shorts in digital. The movies are all in 35. With 35mm, because of the process, it seems like the actors and the crew are far more concentrated. Because the camera is so heavy and everything is slow to get ready, when it comes time to shoot it becomes like a ritual. Nothing is taken for granted the way it might be when you shoot digitally.

How many takes do you usually do?

Sometimes I do 20, 25, and sometimes I do two. It depends on the problems I meet.

Did you enhance or manipulate the 35mm images via a digital intermediate?

Yes. As little as possible, because the technology is giving us too many chances, and when you have too many chances, you run the risk of losing stability. 

What are you doing next?

I am going to a movie ["In the Future"] in the English-language with Michael Caine about a classical music composer. It's set in the mountains of Italy, on the border between Italy and Switzerland. It will probably a UK, Italian and French co-production.

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

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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.