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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Neapolitan Filmmakers Toni Servillo and Paolo Sorrentino Take On Hollywood

Italy's Oscar entry has made the short list. Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) which stars the director's top actor, Toni Servillo, was a huge hit in Italy and is gaining momentum for a coveted nomination in the category for Best Foreign Film.  

The film's A-list cast which also features Rome natives, Carlo Verdone and Sabrina Ferilli, tells the story of the Roman club underworld. Toni Servillo takes the lead role of Jep Gambardella, an uninspired writer who recounts his days as a young spectator who became seduced and intoxicated with power, finding himself caught in a web of superficiality, disillusionment and corruption. Sorrentino described La Grande Bellezza as "a film which probes the contradictions, the beauties, the scenes I have witnessed and the people I’ve met in Rome; a wonderful city, soothing yet at the same time full of hidden dangers."

Nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the film has been called a "swooning love letter to Roman decadence," and Sorrentino did not hold back on the rich, colorful sets and wardrobe. Much of the film was shot on a terrace overlooking the colosseum, so there is always that element of Rome's indulgent, morally questionable history. The film takes us on a whirlwind trip through a select society with extreme highs and lows that produce euphoria one moment and desperation the next.


Paolo Sorrentino

Neapolitan filmmaker, Paolo Sorrentino is no stranger to eccentric films. Born in Naples in 1970, the 43-year-old director offers an original, fascinating perspective on some of Italy's darkest times. He is celebrated in cinema around the world and his films reach way beyond the borders of Italy.

One of the most innovative filmmakers of our time, whose films tell stories of complicated, layered characters faced with morally sound choices, Sorrentino is an artist's artist, one who makes films to satisfy his own artistic hunger and vision. In doing so, he succeeds to make films that are so simply honest and politically incorrect, you can't help but appreciate their fundamentalism and identify with some part of the protagonists' human flaws. His characters have ranged from rock stars to political icons and criminals. But the one thing all these diverse characters have in common is the inner moral struggle facing each of them. His characters find themselves on emotional, soul-searching passages in which they go through deep introspections of the choices their greed and ego led them to make.

Early in his career, Sorrentino teamed up with fellow Neapolitan filmmaker, Toni Servillo and the two have worked on several projects together, creating portraits of sometimes narcissistic characters who live in dark underworlds of society. These underworlds, sometimes having to do with the mafia.. and in other cases the Roman club scene, are parts of society that do indeed exist. They are realities, discussed in hushed tones, which the general public doesn't really want to acknowledge. But Sorrentino dives right into these worlds, carefully examining the characteristics and motives of the people behind them. 

Toni Servillo

Named by Vogue Italy as the most versitile actor in the history of italian cinema, Toni Servillo hauntingly becomes these dark, troubled characters and gives an air of indifference to the methods they use to get what they want. Born in 1958 in Afragola, a town in the province of Naples, Toni Servillo teamed up with Sorrentino for the director's 2001 debut film, L'uomo in più (One Man Up). Set in the 1980's, the film shows the parallel lives of two men with the same name, Antonio Pisapia. One is a top soccer player and the other a successful pop singer. Servillo plays the part of the pop singer. Both men experience the height of success and the depths of failure.  It is a deeply poignant story that balances dreams and reality. 


The two worked together three years later on Sorrentino's romantic psychological thriller Le conseguenze dell'amore (The Consequences of Love), which brought Toni Servillo his first David di Donatello award. The story follows a Mafia accountant found laundering the mob's profits. Servillo delivers an unforgettable performance of a lonely man who falls in love with a young barmaid and is willing to risk everything to be with her, including his life. 

In Sorrentino's 2008 international blockbuster, Il Divo, Servillo plays Giulio Andreotti, a former Italian prime minister and fixture in Italian politics for nearly eight decades, who was a subject of corruption investigations in the 1990's. Sorrentino and Servillo collaborated to present their take on the complicated topic of postwar Italian politics and succeeded in actually simplifying the subject, focusing on the career plateaus and valleys of one of its key players. Elected seven times as Italy's prime minister, Andreotti was known for his signature round-shouldered, slow moving stride and sense of strong inner energy. Servillo embraced those characteristics and was articulate in his protrayal of the former prime minister in his award-winning performance. Sorrentino and Servillo created a true contemporary classic and recounted a significant story in Italy's modern history.


The Neapolitan team of Paolo Sorrentino and Toni Servillo have conquered Italian cinema. Let's see how Hollywood receives the gifted duo. I'd say that after making the the Oscar short list for next year's Best Foreign Film, they're off to a pretty good start.

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