Sorrentino Cinematographer Calls Film School "Absurd," Touts Digital

The Great Beauty

Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino's latest project The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is about an aging journalist who looks back on his youth.


Luca Bigazzi also says Americans misunderstood the Oscar-winning 'Great Beauty': "They didn't understand the mistake behind it"

Paolo Sorrentino's longtime cinematographer, Luca Bigazzi, was on hand at the Locarno Film Festival to teach the Summer Academy's young directors lessons from his illustrious career. Among the many pieces of advice dispensed over the two-hour class, he urged students to forego the romantic dream of film, saying that digital is now the way to go. "Digital is much more superior in quality than film," he stated. "And it gives you much more creative freedom. Let's forget about the past."

Bigazzi also claimed that going to film school is "kind of absurd," saying that teachers and universities are no longer on the field, so what they teach is old-fashioned. Unlike literature, cinema is constantly alive and evolving. He urged students to learn on the job rather than through a teacher, saying "cinema is born to overcome itself."

Besides shooting movies for Silvio Soldini, Gianni Amelio and Abbas Kiarostami, Bigazzi is best known as Sorrentino's partner behind the camera, in helping to bring some of his most challenging and brilliant scenes to life. Bigazzi has led visuals on Sorrentino films The Consequences of Love, The Family Friend, Il Divo, This Must Be the Place, Oscar-winning The Great Beauty and most recently The Early Years, his first film shot on digital.

"Paolo Sorrentino is a crazy man in the best sense of the word," says Bigazzi, "because he knows how to take the best out of any situation." He screened the extended party scene that opens The Great Beauty in which the audience is immediately brought into an outrageous rooftop party full of go-go dancers, flying dwarfs and a thumping bass that seems to cover the entire city. Shot over two days on a seventh-floor terrace over Rome, Bigazzi wasn't able to hang lights anywhere, but rather had to chase the characters with moving lights very quickly to achieve continuity.

"It's a very schizophrenic film about a barbaric character," says Bigazzi, who mixed aggressive lights and overexposed lights with scenes of loneliness, where everything goes back to a low profile, bathed in warm lights. "We are telling the story of Italian humanity, which for 20 years was dominated by [Silvio] Berlusconi and the vulgarity that this person has brought to our country. So it's the attempt to tell the horrors brought to a beautiful city like Rome."

"The Great Beauty was hated in Italy because it disturbed many people. The horror represented in the film involved all of us — intellectuals, politicians, artists, writers. They were all irritated by this film," says Bigazzi. "So in this sense, I think it's a good film. It worked because it bothered many people."

"It reached the end of social critique because the film was instead appreciated by Americans and by the British, because they didn't understand the mistake behind it," said Bigazzi, referring to the era of excess and escapism Berlusconi has brought to the country. "I heard some Americans say, 'What wonderful parties. I would really like to be there.' Me, I would never want to be in one of these parties. This humanity is very vulgar."

In addition to winning the 2014 Oscar for best foreign language film, The Great Beauty also dominated the European award circuit, picking up major wins in David di Donatello Awards, the European Film Awards, Golden Ciak Awards and the BAFTA Awards.

Bigazzi just finished shooting the latest Sorrentino film, Youth, which stars Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. The film was shot in Switzerland with some parts in Venice. "It was one of the most tiring movies of my life. We shot something like 35 to 40 shots a day, with three cameras," Bigazzi tells The Hollywood Reporter.

"We like to shoot fast, because if you lose time, you lose the concentration, the reality," he says. "We need to go fast, faster and faster. I'm very happy about that. We get a better product when the pressure is on. If you lose time in lighting, in thinking and in discussion, you lose the reality and destroy the acting."

Youth is currently in postproduction and will be released next year.

Twitter: @Aristonla