Paolo Sorrentino Receives Zurich Award, Talks Scorsese, Maradona, ‘Beautiful’ Sean Penn

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Paolo Sorrentino, fresh off his Grand Jury Prize win in Venice for “The Hand of God,” in which he decided to tell his own story, picked up another statuette at Zurich Film Festival.

“It comes as a bit of a surprise as I am such a young Italian director,” joked the 51-year-old. “I am honored to receive this award for the first part of my career. I hope I will receive another one in about 20 years.”

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During his masterclass, conducted in Italian, “The Great Beauty” helmer opened up about latest film, which saw him return to his hometown of Naples. A Netflix production (“they allowed me to make a small movie as if it was a big movie,” he said, calling the collaboration “wonderful”), it delves into his family, the tragedy that ripped it apart but also soccer legend Diego Maradona, unveiled as a Napoli player in 1984.

“For me, and for many people from Naples, he represented a moment of joy, of sudden freedom after years of difficult times. His arrival had given us hope,” he said. Presented with an Oscar for “The Great Beauty” in 2014, Sorrentino thanked “his sources of inspiration”: Federico Fellini, American band Talking Heads, Martin Scorsese and Maradona himself, who scored the famous “hand of God” goal in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup against England.

“I met him briefly, during a soccer match. He was nervous, going through some hard times. I didn’t really have a chance to sit down with him and have a chat. My goal was to show him this film, but I was still editing when he died. I am not sure that he knew [I was making it] but people around him did – they wanted to sue me! They thought I was illegally using his image.”

Once again working with his regular Toni Servillo, as well as Filippo Scotti, cast as his young alter ego and awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Award in Venice, Sorrentino opted for a much simpler style for his autobiographical tale.

“I really wanted to show people’s emotions and feelings,” he said. “I don’t think my films can be recognized because of their style, but because of their rhythm. It’s pretty slow but not too slow, it’s adagio. Some people criticize it, but I think they are the ones who are in a rush.”

Admitting it was cinema that helped him overcome teenage depression, offering an escape from the pain he experienced, Sorrentino looked up to Scorsese.

“In my first films, which I luckily never showed anyone, I would try and imitate him. But if you want to do that, you need money.” While making films in Europe grants you more freedom, he said, Sorrentino still enjoyed his American road movie “This Must Be the Place,” starring Sean Penn.

“Good actors are easy to work with – it’s the ones who are less good and insecure that make things harder,” he said, noting that he found Penn’s retired rock star look in the film “beautiful.” “I didn’t find it funny. Of course, everyone has their own idea of what beauty is.”

Admitting he would “love” to make a movie with a female protagonist one day, Sorrentino also discussed “The Great Beauty” protagonist Jep Gambardella and controversial politician Giulio Andreotti, portrayed in “Il Divo.”

“It was a challenge to make a dynamic movie about a still man. That’s why I wanted to make some sort of a rock opera,” he said. It was the criticism that followed that made him scrap a planned series about priest and mystic Padre Pio. “Since I was already in trouble after the film about Andreotti, I decided to leave Padre Pio alone and make something about an American pope instead. My wife had this amazing idea to choose Jude Law. I didn’t think he was pope-y enough, but maybe that was the best aspect of the series,” he said about “The Young Pope.”

“People have told me that my characters are grotesque, but I have seen them before,” he said. “It’s like being at dinner, telling a story and realizing that people aren’t laughing. You add some funny details that aren’t true. Reality is also a perception.”

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