Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty seemed very much to be a look at aging masculinity and the vacated signifiers of an ancient civilization in the tawdry age of Silvio Berlusconi. So it was exciting to hear that, if a Berlusconi biopic was actually something the world needed, such a thing was going to be made by Sorrentino, as it was announced in The Hollywood Reporter back in September. They’ve now, however, announced that that project has been shelved — but that’s not entirely a bad thing, either. For Sorrentino’s hiatus on the project, in part, comes with the success of his other recent, major undertaking: the TV series The Young Pope, a second season of which has already been ordered.
The director apparently says that he’s working on writing the script for that season, and will only return to working on film once that part of his TV project is done. (And apparently, his wish is to keep going with The Young Pope for as long as is necessary to tell the story he wants to tell.) In an interview with Cinecitta (translated in part by THR), the director said, “I wanted to write a script for a film about Berlusconi, but it is a complicated story and it is not always possible to do the film that you want to do.” From the sound of this, it could mean that we’ll never see Bunga Bunga parties, tax evasion schemes, community service work, or public office bans depicted with that vertiginous, sculptural Sorrentino aesthetic.
Apparently prospective Italian audiences had been initially rather excited about the prospect of the film, sending the names of certain older Italian actors trending across social media with speculations of who might be playing the former Prime Minister. For American audiences, the film could have also been an prescient glance into another story of a false populist ultra-rich businessman-politician who wears scandals like they’re jewelry.
In an interview about The Great Beauty in Carpetbagger in 2013, Sorrentino said of the cultural climate in which the film was steeped:
Berlusconi made a great contribution to this culture of nothing. He’s an example of this attitude. There are all sorts of reports of Berlusconi being expected in Parliament to discuss important matters, and he kept everyone waiting because he was busy doing frivolous things. So Berlusconi has contributed greatly to this culture of distraction from important issues. He has promoted a culture of escapism.
The silver lining is that The Young Pope — a co-production between Sky, Canal Plus and HBO — received warm reception when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival/aired in Europe. It follows the rise of a frightening conservative extremist figure trying to undermine the established system of the Vatican. (Jude Law stars as the titular young pope). The series premieres in the US on HBO on January 15 — so now those who become quickly obsessed will know that there’s at least a whole other season of youth and pope-ing to be had.
Watch the trailer: