The Art of the Monologue in Paolo Sorrentino’s Movies Takes Center Stage at Torino Film Festival

“My need to work on monologues originates from my love of literature. I usually pick novels that have little or no dialogue, so that I perceive the book as a very long monologue. Since I make films where plot twists are rare, if not entirely absent, monologues help me to have something masquerade as a plot twist that is just not there,” says Paolo Sorrentino during a special event on the art of the monologue organized by the Torino Film Festival and held at the Teatro Astra on Friday. The talk was moderated by filmmaker David Grieco and festival director Steve Della Casa.

Reading the notes written by Andrea De Rosa (who could not take part in the event), Della Casa listed three types of monologues present throughout Sorrentino’s filmography. The first is the inner monologue, during which the character speaks alone, often with their voice over, while the scene’s tempo tends to defy cinematic conventions. As examples of these inner monologues, Della Casa and Grieco introduced excerpts from “Il Divo,” “The Consequences of Love” and “The Great Beauty.”

Sorrentino revealed that Andreotti’s monologue taking “direct and indirect responsibility” for the crimes committed during the Years of Lead was not present in the script’s first draft of “Il Divo.” “It was actually written some time before filming [the scene], or perhaps in the last draft. […] The decision [to add it] was bound to the indecipherability of Andreotti’s figure.” Sorrentino did not hide he had some concerns about filming it: “My wife said: ‘we’re gonna die [after this].” Moreover, Sorrentino asked Toni Servillo to play Andreotti’s monologue the same way he did on Mario Martone’s 1993 film “Rasoi,” wherein he portrayed the role of “il guappo” (“the crook”).

The second type of monologue sees an actor speaking to a silent interlocutor, which, according to De Rosa, echoes a sort of “streams of consciousness and memories” comparable to that present in Chekhov’s plays such as “Three Sisters.”

Excerpts from “Youth” and “The Consequences of Love” were screened. Sorrentino disclosed that it took about 15 takes for Michael Caine to nail his monologue in “Youth”: “He was so eager to work on it – maybe too much – and he started making mistakes. So we had to do quite a lot of takes. He was angry at himself because getting things wrong was something new to him, but he ultimately managed to nail it. […] He had trouble only on this scene; he did a great job on all others.”

Speaking about his long-time working relationship with Servillo, Sorrentino prompted great laughter. He joked by saying that the Neapolitan actor “always explains to him everything about the film and his character”: “Toni is a fine intellectual, and he likes speculating on things, things I write for fun… Luckily, he attributes meanings to them which later I use at press conferences.”

“We don’t speak much about acting, less than he would. I’m skeptical about discussing the character before making the movie, or even rehearsing. I used to rehearse, but it didn’t work for me because everything that happens before the movie isn’t the movie,” he said, adding that there is usually little room for improvisation on monologues, as they’re conceived as “rigidly structured and final.”

The third type of monologue is the invective. The first excerpt was from the terrace monologue played by Servillo in “The Great Beauty,” which Della Casa and Grieco compared to Molière’s “The Misanthrope” and reminded how it was praised by the late Ettore Scola. Rachel Weisz’s angered monologue with her absent father (Caine) in “Youth” and Servillo’s absurd phone call to a random housewife in “Loro” were also screened.

Grieco zoomed in on “Loro” asking why the diptych wasn’t so successful. Sorrentino answered the two movies had a great audience response, but were received poorly by the critics. “Maybe it came at the wrong time, it should have been made in 10-20 years. […] The problem is that the audience often searches for the truth in a movie. But I take exactly the opposite path.”

Finally, Della Casa and Grieco asked whether Sorrentino had ever thought of working for theater. “No, despite all my love and affection [for theater], I don’t want to stay in a dark room all day. I prefer the circus-like chaos of cinema,” he said.

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