‘Youth’ Director Paolo Sorrentino Leans on His ‘Beauty’ Crew

After delving into Rome’s magnificent but deathly decadence with foreign-language Oscar winner “The Great Beauty,” prolific Italo auteur Paolo Sorrentino worked on dual fronts this year, making Oscar contender “Youth,” about how two octogenarians, played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, see themselves in the future, and “The Young Pope,” a pan-European English-language production from Sky and HBO aimed squarely at audiences who enjoy bingeing on high-end drama series.

Toiling away on “Pope” in an editing suite near Piazza Vittorio, the heart of Rome’s multi-ethnic Esquilino district, Sorrentino is keeping to a tight schedule on the series, which revolves around the first American pontiff, a tormented conservative, played by Jude Law. Diane Keaton portrays a nun, in her first recurring role in a TV skein.

As he works, the director sounds like a man in the midst of an intensely spiritual quest.

“How can you reconcile your personal pain with the fact that religion, Catholic religion in this case, says you have to accept that pain; that it’s part of a grand design?” the director posits, describing the eight-episode show’s theme. “But if this person happens to a pope — the man who is designated to believe, more than anyone else — then you have a pretty big dilemma.”

Not surprisingly, Sorrentino is making this leap into the global TV arena with a tried-and-true team. Key members include his longtime cinematographer Luca Bigazzi and editor Cristiano Travaglioli, and also production designer Ludovica Ferrario, a more recent addition.

Bigazzi, best known to U.S. critics for the sensual crane and dolly shots in “The Great Beauty” — memorably when the camera glides down the Tiber in the closing credits — has worked with Sorrentino on six movies, ever since the director’s sophomore film, “The Consequences of Love.” The Italian lenser doesn’t disappoint in “Youth,” which opens with a striking revolving shot of a singer performing in the garden of an upscale Swiss spa at night, bathed only in lights connected to the scenery.

“What Luca initially brought to me was an aesthetic of darkness that I did not know — and I got to know it in ‘The Consequences of Love,’ ” Sorrentino says.

In “Youth,” what was important, he adds, “was a unity of setting.” That setting, a surreal hotel, was fashioned by Ferrario in three different locations in Italy and Switzerland. “She’s an architect, which is very useful,” Sorrentino notes. “She has a sense of proportion, of geometry. There is lots of geometry in cinema.”

Sorrentino, who is often said to draw from Fellini, concedes: “Fellini is one of the directors I love the most. But it’s weird, because there are so many other directors I love, and sometimes when I look at my work, I notice I’ve ripped off much more from them than from Fellini.”

For “Youth,” which depicts the bond between two friends — a retired orchestra conductor (Caine) and a still-active movie director (Keitel) vacationing in the Alps, Sorrentino did more of a self-assessment, calling the film his “attempt to make an intimate movie, from the heart.”

As is his custom, “Youth” was shot fast, without watching dailies or considering the possibility of reshoots. Therefore, when Sorrentino gets to the editing stage, there’s a sense of discovery. “It’s a great moment,” he says. “I see all this material, some of which I don’t even remember because I shot it months earlier, and we create the movie with Cristiano, with whom there is a great understanding.” That understanding is all the more crucial between a film’s director and editor, because the two are locked up together for months. “You have to have the same sense of humor besides having the same (cinematic) vision,” Sorrentino explains.

Working alongside such simpatico colleagues certainly keeps the director far from the young pope’s existential pain. And it’s a necessary step. After all, in a way, Sorrentino is a true believer himself — in the cinematic arts.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content