Paolo Sorrentino, director of an as yet untitled love letter to his native city, heads back to Naples.
I have photographed Paolo Sorrentino a number of times over the past five years, getting to know him better as his awards campaign for The Hand of God ramped up from Venice through to the Oscars. But I truly connected with him when he was kind enough to request me to do the print element of a Dolce & Gabbana fragrance campaign he was directing, starring Katy Perry, in Capri last summer.
So when I got a call this August from Paolo saying, ‘I’m shooting this feature film, would you like to come and visit the set in Capri?’, I jumped at the opportunity. I said I’d volunteer my services if they’d put me up in my favourite hotel!
I journeyed from the Venice Film Festival to Capri, accompanied by Paolo’s wife Daniela D’Antonio, the most lovely, warm person. I had very little information about the project, apart from what I had read in Paolo’s director’s statement where he talked in typically poetic terms of a film about ‘youth’s lightheartedness and its demise, classical beauty and its inexorable permutations, pointless and impossible loves, stale flirtations and dizzying passion, night-time kisses on Capri, flashes of joy and persistent suffering… endings, and new beginnings.’
[Paolo] talked in typically poetic terms of… ‘youth’s lightheartedness and its demise, classical beauty and its inexorable permutations, pointless and impossible loves, stale flirtations and dizzying passion, night-time kisses on Capri, flashes of joy and persistent suffering… endings, and new beginnings’
The gateway to what would turn out to be Paolo’s world was Naples itself, his hometown and the location for much of the film. Naples is also where Daniela was brought up – she explained that she came from ‘the very rough side’, and the city is a paradox, both dangerous in some parts and incredibly cultured in others. Driving from the airport, Naples feels exciting and absolutely authentically itself. It’s not like anywhere else in Italy; an entirely unique place; its own country nearly. And it explains a lot about Paolo’s vision, which is deeply suffused in romance and myth. In fact, in his director’s statement Paolo says the film’s action is ‘accompanied… by Naples, who charms and enchants…and who knows just how to hurt you.’
So we boarded a boat to Capri. In its centre you have to walk everywhere, so the journey to the set from the hotel was a leisurely 25-minute stroll. And unlike most film sets, it was incredibly relaxed. In part, this is because as the roads are four feet wide there isn’t the usual circus of trucks parked at the location. Everything was carried in.
The place was just so calm. I don’t mean to suggest that people were not working hard, more that you got the feeling that everybody involved was doing what they were born to do. Paolo was incredibly warm, greeting me as a friend and saying, ‘Do whatever you want, just don’t walk in front of
Another treat was to see my friends Gary Oldman and his wife Gisele Schmidt. Their interest in photography has brought us close in recent years, so I couldn’t have felt more at home.
The first day we were shooting in a beautiful house absolutely steeped in history. Apparently Fitzgerald finished The Great Gatsby there and it has been a place where many renowned artists lived and worked. I found myself sat on the terrace looking over at the famous Faraglioni rocks – one of which has the distinctive hole in it – sipping gin and tonics and hearing about the history of the house from its graceful owners and feeling like a house guest.
Then over the following days we moved on to doing night shoots, and during the day we’d rent a boat and go riding round the island. At one time I took Celeste Dalla Porta, who plays the lead, and shot her underwater.
When I think of my time on the set there is one image that I always return to. It was at the beginning of the first night shoot, and there is Paolo, deep in thought, everyone giving him space. He’s walking around, blocking the scene in his mind, a glass of red wine in one hand and a cigar in the other. We are about to start work and have just enjoyed the set catering, which here in Capri is a 15-minute walk down the mountain to a great three-course dinner at a waterside restaurant with unforgettable views.
This is not how things are usually done in cinema nowadays. It was a flashback to another era of filmmaking and to me felt deeply romantic, timeless and nostalgic.
Photographs and words by Greg Williams
The feature is a Fremantle film produced by Lorenzo Mieli for The Apartment Pictures, a Fremantle company; Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent; Paolo Sorrentino for Numero 10 and Ardavan Safaee for Pathé. Starring, in alphabetical order, Celeste Dalla Porta, Silvia Degrandi, Isabella Ferrari, Lorenzo Gleijeses, Biagio Izzo, Peppe Lanzetta, Nello Mascia, Gary Oldman, Silvio Orlando, Luisa Ranieri, Stefania Sandrelli and Alfonso Santagata. Starring, in alphabetical order, Celeste Dalla Porta, Silvia Degrandi, Isabella Ferrari, Lorenzo Gleijeses, Biagio Izzo, Peppe Lanzetta, Nello Mascia, Gary Oldman, Silvio Orlando, Luisa Ranieri, Stefania Sandrelli and Alfonso Santagata.