INTERVIEW: Paolo Sorrentino, writer/director of “Youth”

4 09 2016

In the social sciences, published literature carries a bias of statistical significance. If a journal accepts a given study or finding, it rises to the level of carrying less than a 5% likelihood of occurring due to chance. What that leaves out of the record is what doesn’t work – an equally valuable set of knowledge for anyone looking to do similar research.

What does any of this have to do with my interview of Paolo Sorrentino, writer/director of last year’s “Youth” and Academy Award winner for “The Great Beauty.” Well, aside from some notable cringe-worthy interviews that can play for laughs, we seldom see interviews with talent that don’t go well. As much as I’d like to say everyone can form rapport with their subject in an exchange, it doesn’t always happen.

And let’s just say my talk with Sorrentino wasn’t pretty. It’s been almost 10 months since I recorded this 10 minute phone interview, and I’ve been too scared to listen to it again. I don’t know what all went wrong. I was the last interview of the day, so was he tired from a long day of talking? We had to speak through an translator, so did something get lost in Italian? Could he tell that I just didn’t feel passionately about his movie?

Whatever it was, I feel compelled to revisit my pain on the occasion of Sorrentino’s mini-series “The Young Pope” premiering at the Venice Film Festival. Perhaps it will provide someone with the tools to avoid a similarly awkward interview. The talk definitely taught me to be careful about assuming autobiographical links, even when a film like “Youth” featuring an aging director makes the temptation too irresistible. Here we go…

Paolo Sorrentino directing Youth

MARSHALL

I wanted to start, ironically, at the end. I was really struck by the way the story of Youth extended into the closing credits. To my recollection, the only films these days who take advantage of that space in a film are comic book adaptations. What compelled you to continue doling out information to ponder in the space where you recognized your collaborators?

PAOLO SORRENTINO

[muffled translation, can’t tell if his translator says he did or did not do it on purpose]

When the credits run, the audience is still moved and still thinking about it. It means that when this happens, the movie has reached its goal.

MARSHALL

When anyone makes a film that involves filmmakers, it leads many to speculate about whether there are autobiographical elements. So I just wanted to give you the chance to answer if there are any aspects of Mick Boyle or Jimmy Tree drawn from your own personal views or experiences?

PAOLO SORRENTINO

No, I really invented them from scratch. Maybe there are some autobiographical elements, but really they are straight out of my imagination.

MARSHALL

Did writing their characters help you work through any professional issues or any thoughts you had about the state of filmmaking?

TRANSLATOR

Sorry, say again?

MARSHALL

Did writing these characters, um, was it helpful to work through any professional issues or things you were thinking about, you know, as you are going through your career?

PAOLO SORRENTINO

I really started as a screenwriter before I was a director, so writing my own films is something that is just what I do. I couldn’t do otherwise, so there isn’t really strategy behind that.

MARSHALL

You and Rachel Weisz are the same age. Does that indicate that you see the world at all through the eyes of her character Lena?

PAOLO SORRENTINO

No, although she is playing the same age as I am, I didn’t identify with her. As a matter of fact, portraying someone my own age made it more difficult for me to look at someone.

MARSHALL

A lot of the scholarship surrounding your films discusses you in tandem with Fellini, a comparison that definitely has merit but also feels somewhat of a lazy grouping since you share a nationality. Are there any other films or filmmakers whose influence you find notable in your work, particularly as it might show in “Youth?”

TRANSLATOR

If other directors influenced him in “Youth?”

MARSHALL

Yes, both in his work in general and in “Youth.”

PAOLO SORRENTINO

There are many who influenced me beyond Fellini – I can think of Truffaut, Scorsese, the Coen Brothers and so on.

YOUTH

MARSHALL

Is there any sort of – I’m trying to think how to say it – cross-pollination of sorts? Because I know when you talked with the Criterion Collection when the film opened in the United States, you talked about “The Wolf of Wall Street” as a masterpiece. I noticed some similarities in the tone and rhythm.

TRANSLATOR

Sorry, you said “The Wolf of Wall Street” and which other one?

MARSHALL

That was the only one I said. If that was something in the back of his mind as he was making “Youth?”

TRANSLATOR

Ok, so if he was inspired by “The Wolf of Wall Street” at all?

MARSHALL

Or if it was just something he was thinking about. Not necessarily inspired, per se.

PAOLO SORRENTINO

It’s a film that I really, really loved but really had nothing to do with “Youth.” No, it did not affect me in any way.

MARSHALL

You told Film Comment when talking about “The Great Beauty” that your singular sense of humor came from growing up in Naples and being surrounded by irony. Would you mind elaborating a little bit on what exactly that legacy means and how it might have influenced the tone of “Youth?”

PAOLO SORRENTINO

I don’t know how my sense of humor translates into “Youth,” but I can say that Naples is a city where people want to make you laugh at all costs. Maybe just to counterbalance the sense of precariousness they’ve had for centuries.

MARSHALL

It struck me that most of the film’s major characters are defined by their words and the minor figures are characterized by their bodies and their physicality, often presented in a kind of baroque tableau.  What attracts you to these compositions, be they the young girl contorting to her dance video game or the obese soccer star playing with the tennis ball?

PAOLO SORRENTINO

I think the common characteristic that the small characters have is that they are bare of candor, which is a sort of conveyor of vague poetry to me. And that’s very fascinating.

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One response

5 09 2016
Ricardo

Thanks for sharing

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