Best known for his impeccably stylish modern noir The Consequences of Love (2004), Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, Il Divo, reunites him with his Consequences star, Toni Servillo, and together they revisit the subject of Mafia involvement in Italian life. However, this time the action centres around a figure from the real world, seven-time Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who was tried on multiple occasions for murder and corruption, but never convicted. Alexander Pashby spoke to Paolo Sorrentino during the London Film Festival in 2008.
Alexander Pashby: What was the inspiration behind Il Divo?
Paolo Sorrentino: The idea was to make a film about a character who had accompanied the lives of the Italian people for such a long time. It was something that I’d had in mind from the very beginning, when I started to enjoy cinema. And I decided to do it now because I could afford the luxury of taking a little time. There was no guarantee that I would actually be able to get this project together. I knew that it would be difficult to get funding, but at this stage of my career, it was a risk that I could take. If it wasn’t a particularly successful project, it was not going to be a disaster.
AP: Is that because of the success of Consequences?
PS: It’s really more a case of… When you want to make films, when you haven’t yet done so, you have this sense of urgency. When you’ve actually achieved your objective and made a couple of films, that degree of urgency is reduced. So there’s not that same driving need to make them relentlessly, one after the other.
AP: Andreotti is a popular author in his own right, there’s a wealth of academic writing about him and of course you lived through the events depicted in the film. How did you go about approaching…
PS: … the mass of material? Well, there was quite a lot of study and work involved, probably because I like studying. For Consequences I set myself the task of studying all the mass of material about the Mafia.
AP:I love the scene in Consequences where Toni Servillo’s character is taken to Mafia headquarters and you can really believe that every extra he passes is a member of the Mafia just from the way they look.
PS:Exactly. And in order to get there, you have to study. You have to deal with things that are real, and you have to keep to the facts otherwise you will be accused and exposed. And those true things also have to be material that is appropriate to be filmed. Not everything that is true in life is true on film. And so the difficulty with Il Divo was in the selection of the material and how to make everything fit. Because although the film takes things from reality, it becomes borderline once it’s on screen and it tends to tip over into the grotesque.
AP:Irony is very important to you, isn’t it? And the grotesque is linked to that…
PS:Yes, I always look for irony. The biography of Andreotti is the story of a man who makes an enormous use of irony himself. So it is a part of his way of dealing with things in the film. And then there’s the whole process of transforming reality into cinema reality, being distorted and turning into the grotesque. You could use the example of the scene with the cat. A man who encounters a cat, there’s nothing ironic about it, it’s a normal thing. But put it on the screen and this sort of distortion that the process imposes makes it tip over into the grotesque. That’s when you get the irony.
AP:This is the third time you’ve worked with Servillo now [the first being 2001’s One Man Up]. What’s it like working together?
PS:I wouldn’t really know how to describe it now because, having known each other for such a long time, the whole process is sort of an automatic thing. But it’s based on the fact that we get along very well. We share the same sort of ideas. We have a common view of things and that’s very, very useful.
AP:Your cinematography is very dynamic and your composition very precise. Where does that come from?
PS:I would say that it comes from what I like as a spectator. Reality is fairly random and imprecise, and if I were to make a film in which I presented something that is as imprecise and as random to my viewers, I would be afraid of boring them. So I prefer to make a film in which reality is real, but it’s also something else, and that other thing is, more or less, how I would like it to be.
Interview by Alexander Pashby