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Paolo Sorrentino • Director

“Don’t call me the new Fellini”


- "La dolce vita was a masterpiece, ours is just a film." The Neapolitan director talks about The Great Beauty, in competition in Cannes.

The international press loved The Great Beauty [+see also:
film review
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
by Paolo Sorrentino, in competition during this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The most used comparison was that with Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. “I internalised Fellini’s lessons, like all Italian directors. But I would avoid comparisons: La dolce vita was a masterpiece, and ours is just a film,” Sorrentino explained. 

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What feelings do you have for Rome, the city in which you set your film?
As a Neapolitan, I went to Rome as a boy and I then moved there to live. Over the years, I collected suggestions and anecdotes. But it was when the idea of Jep as a character was born that those notes transformed into a film, because you needed a witness to go through this world. I continue to look at Rome with wonder and amazement. The aim was to look at a broad spectrum of humanity with an eye that remained tender and affectionate. They can seem a bit dull and not like people you would like to spend time with, but behind every single person is sadness, suffering and personal stories. We don’t have any problem saying that we are there too. We too are on the brink of desperation.

Jep remains a pervasively Neapolitan character.
If there is one ironic element to this film, it is certainly thanks to Naples, I have been conditioned by it, and there is an irony there I have met in no other place. The personality of Toni Servillo is tied to a type of Neapolitan close to extinction today, who is able to lightly reconcile a passion for deep things as well as for superficial ones, without being snob. Someone who was able to go to cocktail parties with stars and then spend time with Alberto Moravia. There is also a long literary tradition of emotional disenchantment which goes with a big city, which is where he uses the strength of cynicism as a form of defence against the metropolis. But all cynics hide a sentimental side, which in the case of the film’s main character explodes in the vision and fantasy of the girl he loved when he was young.

There is a character of a holy woman and an image of the ecclesiastical world which is quite cutting, with cardinals who love high society and nuns who have dedicated themselves to Botox.
I have no direct knowledge of that world. We used the weapon of irony to look at every single character in the film. But Jep’s game is not successful when it comes to the holy woman, who is so far removed from that world, she reduces it all to light chatter. She puts everything into question. Jep is disillusioned by the world, by sex and by the adventures happening to him. The holy woman takes him in an unexpected direction, opening doors towards an alternate reality with its silence, its absence of noise. And suddenly Jep starts asking himself questions. But in the cardinal he finds someone more ephemeral and socially preoccupied than him.

What ties you to Toni Servillo?
I think we often work together because of a combination of a sense of family and an unforeseeable rapport which is always renewing itself. He is my best, perhaps even my only, reference critic.

Would you have made the same film ten years ago?
Yes, it would have been the same because it asks questions which don’t belong to a specific time. As Toni Servillo said, the “great beauty” is the metaphor of a country which is constantly losing opportunities, while Rome with its beauty, bares witness to the fact that once upon a time someone took those opportunities.

The feeling of roots, the nostalgia of a lost love, time which goes by. In the end, Jep seems to find a sense of gravity again.
For him, roots are marked by the nostalgic love he has for this girl. But the rediscovery of words also makes a difference. If you were a writer once, then you are always a writer.

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