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Multi-award winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has been speaking openly about his most intimate film to date, “The Hand of God,” at the Lumière Festival in Lyon, where his upcoming Netflix film received its French premiere.

Speaking at a masterclass at the century-old Comédie Odéon theater, Sorrentino confided: “I am first and foremost an observer. It’s what I like doing. But at some point you have to move on from observation to narration. I start telling a story when reality becomes too chaotic. For me, telling a story is putting things in order. That’s the meaning of cinema: putting order into the disorder of reality.”

Questioned on his taste for order and symmetry in his filmmaking, he went on: “I am afraid of chaos and reality. That’s why it took me 20 years to make this film: Naples may be a very cinematic city, but it’s too chaotic.”

A loose autobiographical account of his teenage years, “The Hand of God” marks Sorrentino’s return to his native Naples after two decades. The filmmaker became an orphan when he lost both his parents at the age of 16.

“I don’t want to do a psychoanalysis here today,” he joked. “But because of what happened I have this obsessive need to control things, because at a certain time in my life – and you will see it in my film – I lost control of what was happening around me,” he explained.

The film takes a sentimental journey back in time to 1980’s Naples where Sorrentino grew up. For the filmmaker, who turned 50 last year, nostalgia is a motor.

“Nostalgia – like melancholy and solitude, when they are not pathological – are feelings I harbor because I grew old when I was young: It’s nostalgia for a youth I never had. It’s the worst kind because it’s nostalgia for something I never had but it’s also the best because reality might have been disappointing, so I can make it up in movies.”

Sorrentino shot to international fame with “The Great Beauty” which picked up multiple awards including an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA in 2014. But he says it was his 2008 film “Il Divo” which changed his life as a director.

“”La Grande Bellezza’ was a wonderful, fun experience. But ‘Il Divo’ is the film I am most proud of. It changed the way I perceived myself, I thought to myself ‘I can do this job.’”

A biopic of Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, “Il Divo” earned Sorrentino the Cannes Jury Prize. He also picked up several David di Donatello and Nastro d’Argento awards for his 2018 satire of Silvio Berlusconi, “Loro”. Asked if his films are always political he said, “I don’t know much about politics, I make films about politicians, that’s different. What I’m interested in is the humanity behind these characters. You’ve got to make movies about characters you like. I like my characters, even the most unpleasant ones.

“I’ve done two films about political characters – in fact, you could say I’ve done three because the pope is a political character, too,” he hañf-quipped, referring to his “The Young Pope” (2016) and “The New Pope” (2019) series. “What I am interested in is what hides behind success and power.”

In “The Hand of God”, Sorrentino teams up once again with lead actor Toni Servillo, who plays his father. “We have the same sense of humor. There are always extravagant characters and funny situations. We also share a kind of recklessness: we make bold movies with characters that always verge on caricatures. He’s one of the few people who’s able to follow me in my choices which are sometimes a bit reckless.”

“This was the first time I wasn’t able to explain the character to him because I didn’t understand my father, but he is clever and talented and was able to build it himself.”

Sorrentino’s love of football and Diego Maradona run through the film – is there a parallel with his love of cinema?

“They are two very similar passions.” he said. “First of all, a game and a film last approximately the same time,” he smiles. “Also, you never know how it’s going to end. Sport is always a spectacle in some way. To be honest, I think I’d be better at talking about sport than cinema,” he concluded, drawing laughs from the audience.

Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God,” which world premiered in Venice where it picked up the Grand Jury Prize and earned breakthrough actor Filippo Scotti the Marcello Mastroianni Award, will be released on Netflix on Dec. 15.

Sorrentino will be honored with this year’s Variety Creative Impact in Screenwriting award, at an event on Oct. 17 at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

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Paolo Sorrentino Copyright: Institut Lumiere / Olivier Chassignole