The Italian film director vying for a Palme d'Or

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Paolo Sorrentino at the Cannes Film Festival this week. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
12:38 CEST+02:00
His film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), is the only Italian contender for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The gong will be presented by a jury led by Steven Spielberg on Sunday. Meet Paolo Sorrentino, the Italian Face of the Week.

Who is Paolo Sorrentino?

He’s the director La Grande Bellezza, a film set in Rome which is drawing comparisons with Federico Fellini’s 1960s masterpiece, La Dolce Vita. Born in Naples in 1970, Sorrentino is also known for his film about the late former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, Il Divo, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008.

So what is it about The Great Beauty that’s captured the minds of festival-goers?

It could be the film’s tantalizing cinematography of Rome, or the fact it’s being compared to La Dolce Vita. But whereas Fellini’s classic portrayed hope in post-war Italy, Sorrentino told reporters in Cannes that his film reflected despair in today’s crisis-hit country. The film tells the tale of Jep Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo, an ageing journalist who lives off the royalties from an acclaimed novel penned in his younger years and who, when not putting together columns for high-society magazines, enjoys a lavish life of parties and promiscuity. But alas, all good things come to an end, with Gambardellla growing increasingly jaded with his hedonistic lifestyle. "The film simply tries to portray a poverty that is not material poverty but a different kind of poverty," Sorrentino said.

So is the film set to be Sorrentino’s masterpiece?

Well, some of the film critics seem to think so. The showing in Cannes met with long applause at the end, with one Belgian critic telling La Repubblica: “First we had Fellini’s Rome, now we have Sorrentino’s Rome.” However, a Greek critic was less enthusiastic. “It’s a less successful copy of Fellini’s work, but don’t write that as I have an interview set up for tomorrow.” So in good old-fashioned journalistic style, La Repubblica brushes off the plea and prints the comment anyway.  Sorrentino himself is confident the film will leave its mark in history. He told reporters: "For obvious reasons 'La Dolce Vita' is a masterpiece and my film will become a masterpiece too.”

Is Sorrentino known for any other films?

Sorrentino worked with the American actor Sean Penn in This Must Be The Place, another contender in Cannes in 2011. Such was his good experience with Penn, Sorrentino said in an interview with Grazia magazine at the time that he’d love to work with other foreign actors including Jack Nicholson, Joaquin Phoenix, Christian Bale and Meryl Streep. He made his debut as a screenwriter with 1998’s Polvere di Napoli and caught international attention in 2004 with award-winning thriller The Consequences of Love, which told the story of a lonely businessman caught up in the Mafia.

But surely he has a rotten tomato or two in his closet?

Not yet, it would seem. Sorrentino is widely regarded in Italy as being one of the country’s most talented directors.

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Is Sorrentino known for any particular character traits?

He likes to work with the same team of filmmakers, and often casts the same actors and uses the same crew. Actor Tony Servillo has featured in almost all of his films.

Any noteworthy scandals we should be aware of?

Absolutely none, it would appear. He’s married to journalist Daniela d’Antonio and has a son and a daughter, Carlo and Anna.

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