Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Sorrentino & Servillo in Paris for Il Divo and L’uomo in Più

The Italian actor Toni Servillo and the director Paolo Sorrentino were in Paris during the last week of November, 2008, to introduce the new film “Il Divo” to the Parisian public. It was a chance to get to know these two important figures in today’s cinematic and theatrical arts in Italy through films, discussions and presentations sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute, Le Latina Cinema and La Libreria Bookstore.

Servillo and Sorrentino have both worked with Teatri Uniti Napoli for many years, a place of experimentation and cultural interaction that helped to form them. What gives these two artist their exceptional power is the way they have mixed the cultures of both North and South Italy in such a dynamic way. I use “North” and “South” for want of a better term, since in reality, Italy is not so neatly divisible into North and South, though that is the historic origins of the different cultures. It is more like a schizophrenia, like two boots walking, though from the side we can only see one. And just as two legs can walk much more efficiently than one leg can hop, Italy has made its greatest progress, especially artistically, when the two boots have worked together.

We can see this in Servillo’s work, especially in the character of Giulio Andreotti, the infamous leader of the Christian Democratic Party in the 1980s. Andreotti is a product of the Southern political machine who has managed to ride the turbulent and ruthless political game of Roman power. Paolo Sorrentino also displays this ability to meld the powers of North and South, with his screenplays for Il Divo and another film presented in Paris, L’Uomo in Più from 2001.


clip from the film

This screening of L’Uomo in Più, was very revealing and an unexpected delight. In this film, Servillo plays a Neapolitan pop singer in a story that juxtaposes the singer’s career with another local hero with the same name, an unsuccessful soccer player. Tony Servillo has an amazing ability to use his plastic features in the service of his art. As Pisapio, the smarmy Neapolitan pop singer, with the hedonistic tendencies, his features are in constant movement, as he croons, flirts, threatens and snorts coke. It is delightful to see Servillo play this role, for he is flamboyant without ever becoming a caricature, and he is very convincing. It is not surprising to learn that both Sorrentino and Servillo won David di Donatello awards for their work in this film. The David is the Italian oscar.

The film was a complete opposite of Il Divo. As Andreotti, Servillo’s features are a blob of frozen lava. Sorrentino puts the cameras in constant movement, to give life to the dead weight of Andreotti’s existence. The camera moves in and out, the characters slide sideways across the scene. There is a dynamic use of intersplicing, for example, the images of a horserace that Andreotti attends and the Mafia hit on Salvo Lima

Though it was hard to see the connection between this completely cinematic style and theatrical direction, Paul Sorrentino made a point of crediting referred to his work with Teatri Uniti when he spoke about his work at Le Nouveau Latina in Paris. He said that although the theater occupies a different artistic space, his years at Teatri Uniti inspired his film work. Specifically, it helped him to learn how to focus in his films, to stay close to the essence of his story. This was extremely important because it is so easy to get lost in the infinite potential of cinema, and to lose the thread of the story.

Sorrentino does have certain theatrical devices up his sleeve, too. In both films, Il Divo and L’Uomo in Più, Sorrentino has written a closing monolog for Servillo’s character, a scene that Servillo has called “a gift” from Sorrentino to him, in that it gives Servillo the opportunity to put all his rhetorical talents on display, unraveling his story directly into the camera with a physical and psychological power that emanates solely from the nuances of his voice. His is an eruption of ideas of mental constructions that spew with volcanic force, great redhot heaps of emotion. Coming from the wooden figure of Andreotti, the monolog is shocking and deeply effective. It is no less effective from the otherwise inarticulate Pisapio in L’Uomo in Più, and it is a great use of Sorrentino and Servillo’s theatrical expertise.


May 9, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , , ,

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