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Paolo Sorrentino on 'The Great Beauty'

Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty won Best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards. The luscious and breathtaking film set in Rome has lauded praise from critics and audiences alike, Spling checked in with Paolo to find out about his film, which is now showing at independent and commercial cinemas in South Africa.

Paolo Sorrentino on The Great Beauty InterviewDid you expect The Great Beauty would be such a success?

All the rave reviews it got were a surprise. All I tried to do, to the best of my abilities, was make the film I had in my head. Everything that happened after, the acclaim and its fallout internationally as well, really went beyond anything I could have imagined.

The cinematography of Rome is glorious... were there any locations you would have liked to shoot?

I had the chance to shoot there where I wanted, in the places I’d imagined being able to describe.

The Great Beauty presents a number of paradoxes relating to Rome, how has your film been received in Italy?

In Italy the film was controversial from its first showing at Cannes and that went on up to the Oscar.

You chose to shoot on 35mm, what’s your take on digital?

When I was filming The Great Beauty I knew it would have been my last film in 35mm. And, in fact, that’s how things have panned out.

You’ve directed Toni Servillo in a number of films, do you see yourself in him?

Toni and I have known each other for many years. Our friendship and sense of complicity, his total dedication which, though, never get in the way of his desire to have a good time and do the thing together, passionately, as if on an adventure, means Toni is my ideal interlocutor to deal with the arduous struggle that a film represents. Not to mention, naturally, his inexhaustible capacities as an actor, which are always unforeseeable and unexpected to my eyes.

Which scene in The Great Beauty is your favourite?

I'd say that one moment of the film I feel is essential is when the missionary who's going to be canonized says, “You don't talk about poverty, you live it”. For Jep that moment marks the possibility of being able to pick up the thread of his life again.

Your film’s been compared to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, what aspect of your cinema would you like to be remembered for?

As I've said before, I consider La Dolce Vita a masterpiece while The Great Beauty is only a film. It's hard to say what will remain of your work. I always hope that my films manage to move people.

Tell us about the writing process... where do you write and what inspires you?

I write at home, in my study. The creative process usually begins with the identification of a character. I start taking lots of notes, about all sorts of things, about things I see and what happens to me as well. I gather all this together and when the material starts to become really substantial, I start creating rhymes, assonance, connections. I define my story as I go along. The next phase is writing the screenplay.

You tend to write and direct... if you had a choice, which screenwriter(s) would you like to work with in the future?

It's not easy for me to think of writing with another screenwriter. I did it with Umberto Contarello for This Must Be The Place and for The Great Beauty. I started writing with Umberto when I was very young, when he was already a successful writer for the cinema and I was just aspiring screenwriter very much learning the ropes.

Ours has been a simple and happy relationship, thanks in part to the method that we used. Basically, this method consists of a first phase of chatting, where we concentrate on general suggestions, the points of interest, the tones. We go for very long lunches during which we talk about the film and often wander off in other directions. Then I write a first draft of the screenplay, Umberto does the second and so on like that, in a long work of ping-pong that goes on right up to the last possible moment, that is, the day before shooting starts.

Was it easy to readjust after shooting This Must Be the Place?

After two wonderful years of travelling between Europe and the United States to make This Must Be the Place, I really felt the need to stop moving. I wanted to maintain my idle lifestyle with a job that allowed me to go home every evening; but in reality La grande bellezza was an exhausting film, despite being a passionate experience.