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PRODUCTION Italy / France / Ireland

Historical bank investment in Sorrentino’s latest film, starring Sean Penn


Historical bank investment in Sorrentino’s latest film, starring Sean Penn

The announcement is a “historical” one, according to the managing director of Medusa Film, Giampaolo Letta, who spoke of “a new way of understanding cinema, from an industrial point of view”. For the first time ever, an Italian bank will participate – alongside partners from Italy (besides Medusa, Indigo Film and Lucky Red), France (ARP) and Ireland Element Pictures) – in the production of a film.

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For its “debut”, the bank in question, Intesa Sanpaolo, has chosen This Must Be the Place, the first English-language film by Paolo Sorrentino. The €2.5m investment (in an overall budget of $28m) is part of a broader plan to support Italian film production, implementing the recent foreign tax credit law.

“This is an intelligent way to boost investment”, says Corrado Passera, who as CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo followed all the stages of the group’s progressive approach to cinema. The group – which is a minority shareholder of Lux Vide and 10% partner of Cattleya – has been active in the sector since setting up the specialized desk Media & Entertainment of Mediocredito Italiano, and then backed the project Per fiducia: two series of short films, the first by three established directors (Ermanno Olmi, Gabriele Salvatores and Sorrentino), the second by three young talents. These brief but successful experiments allowed the group to gain confidence in this unknown world. “There’s no improvising”, added Passera, “we wanted to learn first”.

What better “teachers” than the directors of The Consequences of Love and Il divo [+see also:
film review
interview: Nicola Giuliano
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
interview: Philippe Desandre
film profile
, and three production companies that are each successful in their own way? “We thought long and hard before taking the big leap of making a film in English that would allow us to reach more markets,” said Nicola Giuliano of Indigo Film, who has worked with Sorrentino since his 2001 One Man Up [+see also:
film profile
, and who over the years has seen interest in “his” filmmaker grow from critics and filmmakers worldwide grow. Many came forward with interesting projects but, adds Giuliano, “We’re proud that with this new film with entirely Italian roots we were able to attract the interests of a foreign star, something that hadn’t happened since the times of Burt Lancaster (The Leopard), Rod Steiger (Hands Over the City) and Robert De Niro (Once Upon a Time in America)”.

The stars of the new film will be Oscar winners Sean Penn and Frances McDormand. Legend goes, according to the men themselves, that after Penn presided over the Cannes jury that awarded Il divo the Jury Prize he congratulated the film’s director and star [Toni Servillo], comparing their collaboration with that of film duo Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards. Adding: “Keep me in mind for your next projects”.

“To hear something like that from the successor to Brando and De Niro is a challenge for a director,” says Sorrentino. To accept it, first he needed a quality story, such as the one of Cheyenne, rock star withdrawing from the scene who takes a trip that will change his life. After his father’s death, he seeks out the former Nazi criminal who persecuted his father, a former Auschwitz prisoner. “Unlike my other works, this is a radiant, open film that centres on a person who brings joy,” the director said from New York, where he is finishing location scouting. Admittedly, what has been revealed of the plot (that is being kept very much under wraps) seems anything but the Sorrentino explained that “the film will work on three levels: as a broad comedy; an intimate portrait of a father-son relationship to be reconstructed; and a Holocaust story”.

Which is precisely where he got the idea, “from my curiosity for Nazi criminals’ hideouts”. There is thus no autobiographical element, but “the ambition to go straight to the heart of the biggest tragedy of the 20th century. It will be a simple, very linear film. An intimate film against the backdrop of a subject that is not at all simple, in which I will try to reassemble two families: protagonist’s and Europe’s”.

The film is being scored by David Byrne (“A dream come true,” according to Sorrentino, “the Talking Heads have been by idols since I was a teenager”), while the Italian roots are further confirmed by the crew, including DoP Luca Bigazzi and editor Cristiano Travaglioli. During the current crisis, the absence of public funding from the Ministry of Culture (MiBAC) is noteworthy, though Eurimages and the Irish Film Board are still on board.

Many see this first foreign tax shelter experiment as a response to the cuts to the audiovisual fund that is threatening Italy’s film industry. “We can only hope that this instrument will compensate for the cuts to the entertainment industry funds,” emphasised Andrea Occhipinti, managing director of Lucky Red (co-producer of Il divo), pointing out that “the tax shelter, as many film industries prove, sparks a virtuous mechanism, and attracts investors, especially international partners”.

Such is the case with This Must Be the Place. The 70% of the budget guaranteed by the Italian producers (20% from Indigo, Lucky Red and Medusa Film, and 10% from Intesa Sanpaolo) is flanked by ARP’s 20% and Elements Pictures’ 10%. International sales on the film – which will go into production in Ireland on August 16, before moving to the US, for a total 10 weeks – are being handled by Pathé International. Medusa will distribute domestically.

(Translated from Italian)

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