When filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino
walked up the steps at the 86th Academy Awards to receive the Oscar for Best
Foreign Language Film for “The Great Beauty,” he noted great directors like
Federico Fellini and Martin Scorsese as his influencers. For his latest film, “Youth,” which first premiered at Cannes, Sorrentino may still have looked to
those directorial greats, but his specific inspiration came from somewhere new
this time: A quirky piece of news.
The new film stars a talent-rich cast, including Michael Caine Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul
Dano and Jane Fonda. The story revolves around a pair of old friends, a
classical conductor played by Caine and Keitel, a film director planning his
next big hit, who are recuperating in a lavish Swiss hotel spa. Weisz plays Caine’s
heartbroken daughter, Dano a troubled young actor and Fonda a world famous
actress whom Keitel’s director is trying to woo for his next film. Though it might seem
a little odd that a film focused on a set of aging artists would be called “Youth,” the examination of aging, beauty, legacy and yes, youth, are so
eloquently explored in the film that the single word become all-encompassing of
a person’s existence.
Indiewire recently got on the
phone with Sorrentino to explore “Youth,” as well as talk Hollywood,
and his upcoming HBO drama “The Young Pope.”
Tell me the story of the inspiration
behind “Youth” and what moved you to write it?
The first inspiration
for the movie was a piece of news that I read in a newspaper about a famous
Italian conductor, Riccardo Muti, decided to refuse to play for Queen
Elizabeth, because they disagreed about the repertoire. This little piece of
news was interesting to me; it was an interesting place to start a movie.
How did the film’s exploration of age
and youth come from that?
The most important theme in my mind was about aging, about how two older people can answer the question, “What’s my future?” This was the obsessive question that I had in my
mind. Through this movie I tried to find out an answer.
Do you find one?
No! [laughs]. A
little bit of a tricky answer is that I found not the right answer: That the
future can make sense if you have the chance to be free. If you have the
perception of freedom, there is a future in your life. And at the same time,
freedom is the most important characteristic for me in the perception of youth.
So in a certain sense we can say also that if you are 80 years old, if you
believe that tomorrow you have freedom, there’s is also a sort of youth inside
Tell me about your relationship to
music as a director. How
did you choose the pieces?
The music is the most
important provider of emotion. In the movies that I do, I try to provide the
emotions for the audience. Then how I decide to use it depends on the scenes or
the moment in the movie.
I read somewhere that you said that you
are mystified by conductors because you can’t really tell who is doing a good
job. It looks very nice but the only people who know if the conductor is any
good might be the musicians. Do you think people are equally as amazed by film
[laughs] Ah, yeah
that’s true! I agree, it’s not easy for those who don’t do it to understand
what we do. Probably we do the same things as the conductors. We keep things
tight, it’s composing a movie.
So you relate very much to Michael
Yes, very much so.
With the other characters, there’s a
lot of commentary about the film industry; a lot of apathy and frustration,
particularly from Paul Dano’s character. Does their frustration come from a
real place for you?
I don’t think that
Paul Dano is playing an apathetic character. I don’t really see a criticism
towards the film industry. I think what Dano does is what we directors do and
what actors do, we observe. This is his tool.
Is there anything specific about the
film industry that he was interested in presenting through these characters?
Brenda’s (Fonda) commentary that
actresses can’t get work past a certain age is something that resonates
throughout the industry especially in Hollywood. What’s your take on how women
are treated in film industry?
I actually don’t have
an opinion on the matter but I hear women complaining that there isn’t enough
room for them in the industry and so I believe that this is true.
Can you tell me about the apples? I
feel like there were apples everywhere in this film.
Yes! Because the spas
are usually filled with symbols of wellness and apples are such a symbol.
You experienced much of American and
British awards season with “The Great Beauty,” and we’re heading into
another awards season now. What has your experience of this crazy time of year
It was a great
experience. It was a very tiring one! But in the end, all the hard work paid
off by winning an award. It’s a beautiful experience because you have the
chance of establishing relationships with people and you have a feel of where
your work has been.
Turning to your next project, the HBO
series “The Young Pope,” what made you turn to TV after so many years
Because TV has given
me the chance to write a lot, and I love to write. Good television, I feel is
literature and cinema’s beautiful child. This is a chance that I wanted to take
In “Youth,” Jane Fonda’s
character says something about television being the future. How much do you
It’s not really my
opinion. I believe the future is open to hold television and cinema.
How has the television experience been
It was actually an
easy transition and it’s been an easy one and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.
There are a lot of the same criteria as when I do film.
Being Italian, the subject matter of
the Vatican and Catholicism is very close to home for you and many Italians. Do
you think American audiences will relate?
I think that
Americans can relate because what we’re really talking about is a person’s
journey. A person’s joys and sorrows, so anyone can relate to that.
“Youth” opens in limited release on December 4.