Paolo Sorrentino was born in Naples, in the Arenella district, and when he was 16 both his parents died: “Because of a stove,” he said a few years ago, “poisoned by carbon monoxide” in a house where he had not gone with them because for the first time his father had given him permission to go away to follow a game of Napoli by Diego Armando Maradona. Sorrentino said of his parents: «Mom was sunny, welcoming, funny. Radiant. Dad was not very Neapolitan. Shut up, introverted, never a word; with flashes of irony that made us happy. Toni Servillo reminds me of it, with his rigor and his blazes of irresistible hilarity ».
Sorrentino lived a little with his older sister and then, quite early, alone. He attended the classical high school by the Salesians and then, although he would have preferred to study philosophy, he was convinced that economics was better. But he didn’t finish it: “I had five exams to graduate, when I chose the cinema,” he told al Corriere della Sera. «If what had happened had not happened, I would never have been a director. As a banker’s son I would have followed, more or less, in my father’s footsteps. Being an orphan gave me unconsciousness to try. “
In 1994 he made his first short film, A paradise, which was followed by several experiences as assistant director and screenwriter, among other things also for TV, where he dealt with the script of some episodes of the series The team. In those years he also wrote the screenplays for the film Neapolitanswhich, however, was not made, and for Naples powder, which instead became a film directed by Antonio Capuano, starring Silvio Orlando.
In the late nineties he directed another short film – Love has no boundaries, who talks about “a boss nicknamed Mahatma, who hiding in a secret refuge, calls a hired assassin to find youthful love – and wrote another screenplay that didn’t turn into a movie. In 2001 he directed the short film The long night, to raise awareness against the use of drugs, in collaboration with the municipality of Milan. In 2001, just over thirty, he directed his first film.
The extra man
Played by Toni Servillo, it is a dramatic film that tells the stories of the footballer Antonio Pisapia and the singer Tony Pisapia. It’s the eighties and both seem to be at the peak of success, but something happens to both of them that changes their lives. A few years ago, Sorrentino said: “On Saturday evening, my parents invited friends home, put on a Califano or Sinatra record and danced their lenses. I, child, looked at them spellbound. I made my first film, the story of a confidential singer, because my father listened to Califano ».
The consequences of love
It is from 2004 and there is still Servillo, who this time is Titta Di Girolamo, a fifty-year-old man who makes a very strange life in a hotel room in a small Swiss town. He does not have a job and lives in “an atrocious routine, in the eternal wait for something daring to happen”. She suffers from insomnia and a dose of heroin is injected every week (but it’s more complicated than that). At one point he says, in one of those monologues written by Sorrentino and recited by the characters of Servillo (all, among other things, with very notable names):
The worst thing that can happen to a man who spends a lot of time alone is to have no imagination. Life, already boring and repetitive in itself, becomes a deadly spectacle in the absence of fantasy. Take this individual with the bow tie: many people would have fun seeing him on his profession, on the type of relationship he has with these women; I, on the other hand, see only a frivolous man before me. I am not a frivolous man, the only frivolous thing I have is my name: Titta Di Girolamo.
The family friend
First film without Servillo. The protagonist with the most notable name – Geremia de ‘Geremei – is played by Giacomo Rizzo and is a «very ugly, filthy, rich and mean, cynical and ironic usurer» who has «a morbid, obsessive, sick relationship with anything» and that he uses the debts people have with him to sneak into their families.
It came out in 2008, with Toni Servillo playing Giulio Andreotti and which is mostly set in a couple of years of the early nineties. Andreotti called him “a rascal”. Sorrentino said:
Andreotti reacted angrily and this is a good result, because usually he is impassive in the face of every event. The reaction comforts me and confirms the strength of cinema compared to other critical instruments of reality.
This Must Be the Place
Sorrentino’s first non-Italian film: English in the language and extremely American in its setting. The protagonist – a former rock star looking for a Nazi officer who humiliated his father – is played by Sean Penn and why he decided to shoot This must be the place, Sorrentino said:
I wanted to measure myself in a shameless and reckless way with all the iconographic places of cinema that have made me love this job since I was a boy: New York, the American desert, service stations, dark bars with long counters, distant horizons. American places are a dream and, when you are inside them, they do not become real, but continue to be a dream. This very strange condition of continuous suspension from reality only happened to me in the United States.
About the story told, Sorrentino said:
In my ideal world, films should no longer include storylines and should simply tell the characters in the round; however, the plot in the film is there, because there are still those who are passionate about this bad thing.
The great beauty
Again Servillo, in a film that at the beginning someone criticized but which is now clear, almost ten years later, to be one of those films that make themselves remembered, that tell the right story at the right time. He entered the Italian culture starting with the title, and continuing with scenes, contexts, citations; it is one of the few Italian films that have really noticed abroad.
Interviewed by Corriere della SeraSorrentino listed his five favorite films: Once upon a time in America, by Sergio Leone, and then The sweet life, Half past eight, Rome is Amarcord, all four of Federico Fellini, a director that many thought about watching The great beauty. The interviewer pointed it out to him and Sorrentino replied:
As much as I’ve always denied that The great beauty you have something to do with him, the lie is clear. I too humbly try to get to the truth through fantasy.
Youth – Youth
A highly anticipated film, after the successes of the previous one, but certainly not equally appreciated. Set in a hotel in the Swiss Alps and with Michael Caine, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda, he speaks of “memory and absence”.
Released split in two, but in the end it is a single film about Silvio Berlusconi (who knows if someone had told Toni Servillo, 15 years ago, that after Andreotti it would have been Berlusconi too). About Their (released in 2018, about seven years after the last government directly led by Berlusconi) Sorrentino said to Vanity Fair:
I read a sentence by Susan Sontag that seemed enlightening to me: “The topics start to excite me when they finish to excite others”. Heck, I thought. This is exactly what happens to me. So after thinking about it a lot, when the spotlights went out on Berlusconi and the curtain went down, I finally moved.
The Young Pope is The New Pope
Two series set in the Vatican, but in the style of Sorrentino. The first with a young American pope, played by Jude Law, the second with an aristocratic and British one, played by John Malkovich. There is much of what Sorrentino is famous for: including some incredibly evocative images and scenes (the photograph is by Luca Bigazzi, his historical collaborator), even regardless of the context of the story.
They are all right is The irrelevant aspects
In addition to the scripts of everything he directs, Sorrentino has also been the author of two books: They are all right is The irrelevant aspects, of 2010 and 2016. Speaking of writing, not only of books, Sorrentino said to Print:
I am more a writer than a director, from twenty to thirty years I only wrote scripts. I like cinema, it’s a beautiful activity, but when I have time I also write books. The book allows me an unbridled freedom. Everything I see happening is on the page. Whereas when you work for cinema you know that what you write will have to do with other realities and other people. Cinematographic writing moves between barriers and obstacles. The novel ends when the publisher publishes it, the script is only the first step.
About how he wrote, he explained that he did it for many hours a day, but that only a few were really profitable:
I go to the computer and write ten, eleven hours. But the good part is about the first two hours of the morning. All the rest is preparatory at two hours the next day.
Sometimes, Sorrentino also acted.
Federico Fellini, the Talking Heads, Martin Scorsese and Diego Maradona