I’m Italian, hear me roar.
If you want to pinpoint the who, what, and how of the rebirth of Italian cinema, at its bedrock you’ll find director Paola Sorrentino. Sorrentino reminds me of Fellini, not in style, but in attitude, creating rarefied art that will never appeal to everybody, just because, well, watch any one of their movies and you’ll see what I mean.
In any case, Sorrentino appeals to a lot of people, enough to make him BIG in Italian cinema, and enough to allow him to keep making the kind of movies that audiences will cheer for and boo at simultaneously.
Exibit A: La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty).
For Gep Gambardella, (Toni Servillo) a journalist who wrote an important book years ago and has spent the time since resting on the laurels, everything in life seems like an exaggeration; a vapid, narcissistic, waste of time. In the midst of his socialite life in Rome he is surrounded by self-absorbed pseudo-intellectuals and artists that sully the name of art with meaningless nonsense, and he’s hesitant to contribute to the blah, blah blah that he feels swirling around him. “Ci sono cose più importanti che provocare me”, Gep tells a young artist who has just run naked, smashing her head into an aqueduct as part of her performance. “There are more important things than provoking me.” The Great Beauty won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 2014, so this film’s appeal clearly went beyond Italy’s borders.
WATCH LA GRANDE BELLEZZA
Sorrentino’s last film was no less controversial. In the English language Youth (La Giovinezza) two aging buddies, Mick, a director, played by Harvey Keitel, and Fred, a composer played by Michael Cane are on holiday together and are handling their old age in different ways; Fred seems indifferent and lethargic, facing each day with a weary resignation. Mick, however, is working on his masterpiece, his “testament”, with a group of young screenwriters with the enthusiasm of a younger man. In an ironic twist, there’s a third rewrite of the script and everybody including the producers are happy, but the writers still can’t come up with a way to end the film, but Mick’s not worrying about it.
At its Cannes premiere many critics used the word masterpiece, but others were appalled. One critic called it the silliest thing she’d ever seen. Me? I wrote that it was “absolutely gorgeous, but not just visually. The dialogue is sensual overload for a conversation lover like me, and you get lost in the richness of the soundtrack . I watched the film three times in a row and each time I heard something new, a word or phrase that made me stop and consider its meaning for me.”
If you want to make it a Paolo Sorrentino Film Fest, here’s a couple more that we Americans have access to:
This Must Be The Place is another English language film starring Sean Penn as an aging rocker who sets out on a road trip across America to find the Nazi that tormented his father.
WATCH THIS MUST BE THE PLACE
And Il Divo, the bio-pic about 92-year-old Giulio Andreotti, the seven time Italian prime minister. (Stars Toni Servillo)
WATCH IL DIVO
Stay tuned for news about Sorrentino’s new HBO project, a mini-series starring Jude Law called The Young Pope, Law playing a young pope.