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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From the Vaults.. My interview with Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino at the 2005 edition of Open Roads: New
Italian Cinema, NYC
Update: 12 March 2018

It's always exciting to have news about a brand new Paolo Sorrentino film. Scenes from Loro, his latest collaboration with Toni Servillo, were released today. 

The Academy Award-winning director announced the project back in 2016 at the 73rd Venice Film Festival when he was presenting the first two episodes of his HBO series, The Young Pope. The project had been shelved for a while and then in April of 2017, Variety reported that filming would start during the summer.

Loro is the story of Italy's former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. In November of 2013, Berlusconi was expelled from parliament amid accusations of sexual relations with a minor and bribing a senator. Two years later, he was found guilty of bribing the senator and was barred from public office for five years. In year three of that ban, Berlusconi is moving full-speed ahead with his comeback. In the weeks leading up to Italy's election on March 4 of this year, he was at center stage campaigning for the neo-fascist party Brothers of Italia (Fratelli d'Italia), which is included in the newly formed coalition of Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League (La Lega). Berlusconi was all smiles as the press followed his every move on Election Day. He certainly seems to love the spotlight. Perhaps that's because he started out in show business. Before making his fortune in real estate and becoming a media mogul, Berlusconi was none other than a cruise ship singer. 

So, the timing of Sorrentino's film is perfect as Berlusconi reemerges on the international political scene. Here is the teaser trailer that was released today with English subtitles...

Paolo Sorrentino in New York City

After recently going through my archives of interviews, I discovered a few gems that for one reason or another, I did not publish. Among those gems is my 2005 interview with director Paolo Sorrentino. At the time, he was a young, relatively unknown Neapolitan making some pretty great movies. Lucky for us New Yorkers, the Italian cinema authority in town, Antonio Monda, saw something in this young director and rallied for his films to be shown at major festivals in New York. The first being in 2002 at the inaugural edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. Sorrentino was on hand to present his early masterpiece L'uomo in più (One Man Up), which introduced Americans to the infinitely talented Toni Servillo. I have this fantastic memory of chatting with one of the producers after the film. Our chat led us outside and I found myself walking through the streets of Tribeca with Paolo Sorrentino, Antonio Monda and this entourage of Neapolitans. 2002 pre-dated my journalist days, so I wasn't thinking about interviews or photos. I was just enjoying the fun, slightly surreal moment of being surrounded by these cool Neapolitan filmmakers.

Fast forward a few years when Sorrentino returned to New York to present Le conseguenze dell'amore (The Consequences of Love), the story of a lonely mafia accountant (Toni Servillo) who falls in love with a young barmaid, played by Olivia Magnani, granddaughter of Anna Magnani. When the film was shown in 2005, I was writing about Italian cinema for Chicago's Italian-American publication, Fra Noi. So I had the opportunity to actually sit down with him and ask him about filmmaking. I found him to be sort of a gentle giant, mostly because he is so tall. He was soft spoken and laid back but confident in his convictions. He spoke about his influences and I found it surprising that he doesn't feel his Neapolitan bringing-up influenced his work. When I speak with Neapolitan filmmakers, they are usually passionate about the artistic influence that growing up in the culture of Naples has had on their creativity. Sorrentino is a man of few words and chooses those words carefully. However, he was courteous and direct in his replies.

(Watch the trailer for The Consequences of Love)

The interview was never published because I opted to write a profile instead. His English and my Italian were not quite developed back in 2005 and there was no translator available, so the interview was very short and sweet. However, I thought with all the success he's had in America, why not just publish it. So here it is.. my interview with the great Paolo Sorrentino at Lincoln Center's Fifth Annual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.

Sorrentino with fellow Open Roads filmmakers Valentina Cervi and Alessandro D'Alatri

Tell me about the role of the Mafia in your latest work. What message are you trying to send?
The basis for this film is that the mafia is not just an Italian phenomenon. A great deal of culture or the “brains” of the Mafia is actually based in Switzerland. We cannot deny that we have Mafia, but it’s not only in Italy.

What do you want to say about Italy to the world through your films?
My films say that we must stop with the stereotypes about Italians. The error is to think that Italian people are different from other people. Italian people are just like people from other European countries. They are not different. If you pay attention carefully in this film, you will see that inside, all these people are equal.

Does being from a magical city like Napoli, steeped in so much history influence your self-expression as a filmmaker?
No, not at all. I am from Napoli but I enjoy European and American cinema. I don’t choose to write about Napoli in film or express my experience of living here. However, sometimes I use Neapolitan actors in my films, such as Toni Servillo.

How did your collaboration with Toni Servillo come about?
We were friends before we worked together. He is a very powerful actor. He is different from other Italian actors. He’s very expressive. Usually Italian actors are minimalists. He is more extreme.

It's been fascinating to see Sorrentino's evolution as a director since his Tribeca premiere 15 years ago. His works over the years have been quite different from one another, yet they each contain his unique curiosity about the human condition, regardless of one's nationality or background. I believe this is the key to his success.

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