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Paolo Sorrentino • Director

"It's nice to go on set and be surprised"

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- Cineuropa interviewed Paolo Sorrentino, director and guest at the 11th edition of Kustendorf Film and Music Festival, about his directorial journey

Paolo Sorrentino • Director
(© Kustendorf Film & Music Festival)

In 2014, Paolo Sorrentino attended Kustendorf, the festival created and organised by Emir Kusturica, to talk about The Great Beauty [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
, a few weeks later, it won an Oscar. Four years on, he’s back to receive the Tree of Life Award from Emir "for his future film" (Loro, a feature film about Berlusconi, which he filmed this summer with his friend and actor Toni Servillo, but about which he remains very secretive), to accompany the retrospective dedicated to his work at the Serbian event. He will also be holding one of the festival’s distinctive masterclasses, following the screening of the first episode of his TV series, The Young Pope. Cineuropa asked him about his journey.

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Cineuropa: Have you changed as a director since first attending this event? Have you learnt anything new?
Paolo Sorrentino: In all honesty, the more I progress, the less I think I know, can teach or can inspire. It's a bit weird. When I was younger, I'd made fewer films but I had a lot of advice to give other people. Now that I've made more films, I'm left with no certainties. Over time, you have more of a desire to make films than to talk about them. Better to experience things than to talk about them, better to do them.

But I haven’t changed, or if I have, I haven't noticed, because in reality, I think I've been doing more or less the same thing since my first film. I’ve always loved the same type of character, the same kind of story. In fact, in the montage of my films that Emir presented at the opening, there were many recurring themes. I always make the same film. 

During the masterclass, you spoke about the trust you must have on set, which is essential to your relationship with the leading actor. In addition to this, you also discuss the main character a lot with the actor, do you rehearse?
Not very much. I let the actor garner what they need to from the script. I ask the actor to tell me what they have understood about the main character, and they’ve usually already grasped it from the screenplay. If they don't understand, I explain, but in reality, I don't often have to. On set, I try to create an atmosphere in which the actor acts in accordance with my expectations, more or less.

As for rehearsals, I hardly ever do them. Only if an actor asks me to. But I don't like them, because they take away some of the freshness of what happens on set. I prefer to go on set and see what happens. It's nice to go on set and be surprised. It's better, in my opinion. I didn't do it in the early years. But now that I’m more familiar with the ropes, I do it. I go on set and change things based on what happens on the day.

It’s surprising that you leave that space to reality, given your preference for invention, in contrast to the naturalism that you spoke about last time, and the impression of a demiurge director that we get from your films.
I do control what’s happening on set, but I don't decide upon everything beforehand. I let the set influence me, basically. The same thing always happens: extras turn up, you like a face... At that point, I start writing a few lines for that extra... It happens often, especially in scenes with a lot of people.

And how do you work between films, when you're not on set?
When I'm not making films, I’m not doing anything. If I'm not doing anything, sooner or later, a series of things will come to mind that I need to make into a film, without my having to relentlessly look for them. Films sort of come to you, there's no point in searching too hard. At a certain point, you can't help but make a film. You need to make that film, and so it comes to life.

During the opening ceremony, Kusturica said that here at the festival, great directors meet the people who will one day become great directors. What is a "great" director for you?
For me, a great director is someone who has a poetic universe, who has a poetic world that they refer to. A complete world, or one that is being completed. So, for me, a great director is someone who uses their poetic world in more than one film, or in a film that’s a masterpiece.

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