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Paolo Sorrentino, director of Il Divo

Paolo Sorrentino

Q&A with the director of Il Divo

Apr 30, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The title of Paolo Sorrentino’s fourth feature film Il Divo refers to Italy’s notorious and enigmatic politician Giulio Andreotti, who held the office of Prime Minister three times between 1972 and 1992. The film’s subtitle is The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti, and once those words are typed across the screen, Sorrentino immediately delivers a dose of spectacle, depicting a rapid succession of violent incidents through zooms, dolly shots, upside-down imagery and inverted titles. The sequence is accompanied by the anxious thump of Cassius’ “Toop Toop,” and at one point, Sorrentino steadily slows the beat of the track to a silence for dramatic effect. The nefarious events of Il Divo’s first five minutes set up a sinister backdrop for the film, which observes the years of Andreotti’s political career that were tainted by scandal. Although Andreotti, who is still living, was appointed Senator for Life in 1991, he has been accused of corruption involving the Vatican and was brought to trial and acquitted of charges of collusion with the Mafia and the murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli.

Sorrentino’s film—with its bold camera angles, sweeping camera movements, and a soundtrack that mixes songs by Beth Orton and The Veils with mostly classical pieces—flourishes with the kind of cinematic energy that brings to mind Scorsese. So it’s a little surprising how relaxed and nonchalant Sorrentino is in person. Il Divo won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008, while Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah was awarded the festival’s Grand Prix. Toni Servillo, who portrays Andreotti with deadpan zeal, received a European Film Award for his work in both Il Divo and Gomorrah. The acclaim bestowed on the two films has sparked discussion of a revival in Italian cinema, but Sorrentino, whose thin frame, short-cropped hair and long sideburns would make him fit in with a rockabilly band, repeatedly shrugs off the audacity of Il Divo while reclining on his hotel room’s couch. I met with him on an unseasonably hot April day in Los Angeles.

Upon the success of Il Divo and Gomorrah, there has been talk about a revival in Italian cinema. Do you agree that something special is happening now, or were strong films being made in Italy all along?

I don’t believe there is a revival of Italian cinema. I think it was a case that there were two good movies about some important topics of Italy. I believe that Italian cinema is going well, but it was going well before then.

Stylistically, you were not shy about employing cinematic tools such as zooms, slow motion and still frames. What did you determine that this story required visually?

I wanted to make a non-traditional biopic, a sort of rock opera like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I wanted to make the same kind of movie, so I did everything that the cinema can provide.

What made Toni Servillo right for the part of Andreotti?

Simply, that he’s one of the best actors of his generation. I know him very well because of the movies we did together, so for me it’s very simple to work with him.

Was there anything about this performance as Andreotti that surprised you?

I am always really surprised by the ability of the actors to make their characters completely different from themselves, so they are always full of surprises for me. Everything surprises me about the actors, yes.

How do Italians view the Vatican these days, and how do they respond to films that suggest corruption in the Vatican?

We are used to these kinds of topics, so they were not particularly shocked by my movie. The young people were more struck by this movie because they didn’t know anything about the corruption.

It’s more common for films about historical figures to go into production after the subject has died. What were the challenges of making a film about a living figure?

For me, there is no difference between the dead and the living. If a person is a public person and if he has some public responsibilities to the world or the people, I can do a movie about him. It’s not important if he’s living or dead.

With Andreotti being a politician, did you receive any type of bureaucratic pressure during production?

I didn’t receive any kind of pressure. The film is not revealing anything new.

There are numerous shots in the film that are precisely composed and involve movement as well. How did the length and scope of this production compare to your previous films?

This film is a little bit more complicated because there are a lot of people, and in the others I didn’t have all these people to manage. But I always move the camera; I don’t like to stay stiff.

Have you chosen your next project?

I haven’t. This is my problem. [laughs] We’ll see. No, it’s not a problem. We’ll see.


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June 22nd 2009

Paolo Sorrentino is Great Italian film director and won numerous prizes including five David di Donatello..I can’t describe him in words..He is marvelous…