“The miracle is to continue to be amazed.” Paolo Sorrentino once again in competition with “Parthenope”

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino presented Tuesday March 21 in official competition at Cannes Parthenopea film which traces the destiny of a young girl born in the sea, beautiful and rich, who goes through life with its dramas, its loves, its happiness and its sufferings.

This great Italian director, known for his swirling and baroque productions, an ironic look at his country and its politics, offers here a much more contemplative, almost metaphysical film, which invites us to observe the effects of time passing, in the magnificent scenery of the city of Naples.

Paolo Sorrentino, cigar between his fingers, salt and pepper mop of hair tossed by the wind blowing on the 6th floor terrace of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, confided to franceinfo Culture what inspired and nourished his tenth feature film.

Franceinfo Culture: Where did this mermaid come from?
Paolo Sorrentino: A mermaid is a woman who comes out of the water, it’s a wonderful image. I like this image, but this film is not a story of a mermaid, it is the story of a woman, of a heroine of life who, like everyone else, loves, suffers, will be disappointed, will disappoint in turn. It’s the story of a woman going through life.

What did you want to say with this film? What was your initial idea?

What mattered to me was the passage of time. It was to seek to understand what happens emotionally to a being when he goes from youth to adulthood, then to old age. All this moves me a lot.

“It is the great epic story of youth, with its desires, this life full of dreams and promises.”

Paolo Sorrentino

at franceinfo Culture

I am moved that at some point this era disappears, that desires become less and less broad, less and less long, less and less high, and that everything ends up disappearing. As Nietzsche said, we become what we are, and it is a very painful thing. When we are young, we say to ourselves, I would like to be myself and then when we get there, we only want to be someone else. But it’s too late.

Most of the movie, almost the whole movie, is about youth and then a little bit about old age and you have a big ellipsis about what happens in between. For what ?
Yes, because I believe that most of the things that happen to us in life, and which are important, happen during youth, and that is why the film lingers so long on this period. Later, when we become adults, responsibilities arrive, we have a greater awareness of everything, and everything is more predictable. We have less capacity to let ourselves be surprised, and ultimately “we go to bed early”, as Proust said.

And old age?
I think there’s this capacity for wonder again when you get old. The last scene of the film shows this, with this old lady who watches, in amazement, as this truck disguised as a boat passes. He who no longer has anything to ask, who no longer expects anything, regains his capacity to be surprised. How often you can see elderly people on street corners, ice cream in hand, absorbed in something they saw on the street, just like children do. So, yes, in a way, old age is directly related to youth.

To tell this passage of time, you chose a woman who is very beautiful, who arouses desire, why?

I think these are phases of life. It is obvious that when a boy or a girl becomes aware of their beauty, how can I put it… they have to come to terms with this beauty. And there is also what happens with beauty. Parthenope discovers the force of seduction, which is not intended exclusively for desire, for sexuality, for love. It is something much more elaborate which brings an intimate knowledge of the other. Above all, it is something that makes us give the best of ourselves.

Parthenope also wants to be loved for something other than her beauty, she pursues brilliant studies and becomes friends with this professor, who loves her not only for her beauty. What does this mean to you ?

She also discovers all the consequences of beauty, the attraction it exerts around her, but also very quickly, she realizes that this beauty does not belong to her, that it belongs to everyone. This is usually where we start to worry about beauty. And Parthenope is no exception. She begins to feel this beauty as a burden, as a source of problems. This is why, when this beauty becomes too heavy, Parthenope prefers to devote herself to something else, she also abandons her ambitions as an actress, which are linked to an idea of ​​beauty. The old professor somewhat replaces his missing father. It’s almost a filial relationship. She knows they will never become a couple. It is another form of love between two people who have this suffering and this taste for knowledge in common.

The sea is omnipresent in your film, what does it represent in this story?
Parthenope was born in the sea. She is a free and alone character. When we experience freedom too often, the consequence is loneliness. Solitude is partly a choice, but also a consequence of this quest for freedom. The sea is a perfect image to depict this. It conveys a great idea of ​​freedom, and at the same time of solitude. When we look at the sea, we imagine that we can go anywhere. But when you start swimming, after 100 meters, you feel deeply alone and you want to turn around.

In this film, as in all your films, everything is beautiful. The settings are beautiful, the characters are beautiful, the lighting is beautiful. Everything is beautiful. Even the ugly characters are beautiful, the “satanic” priest character is beautiful. Why so much beauty?
Because I see beauty everywhere. Everywhere and in everything, all the time, it’s my problem. And you are right, for me, this character of the priest is magnificent, the most beautiful of all! The priest, for me, is beautiful because he manages to make all kinds of contradictions coexist within him, with a casualness that only great seducers possess. He is lazy, but enterprising. It is ironic, but profound. He’s stupid, but smart. And he manages to maintain self-confidence despite a body that, by common standards, is ugly. Even models don’t have this much confidence in their bodies! And that confidence makes him beautiful. He is a great seducer, and like the great seducers, he only puts on the table what he has to give, and ultimately, it is Parthenope who has the power to choose.

The city of Naples is a character in its own right. It’s a declaration of love to this city, right?
Yes, because Naples is the city from which I left, but I am strongly tempted to return there. It’s a city that I love, it also perfectly reflects my idea of ​​love. For me, Naples looks a lot like what love is, that is, something that you approach, but at the same time you run away from, that arouses passionate feelings for being loved, but also a form of intolerance. And that’s really how I feel about Naples, with all these contradictions.

The film is about miracles, for you, what is a miracle?
For me, the miracle is continuing to marvel. The older you get, the more difficult and rare it is, so when it happens, it truly becomes a miracle.

Thanks to Olivier Favier for the translation from Italian to French.

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