Shooting a scene for La Grande Bellezza(photo by Gianni Fiorito)
Shortly to be shown in competition at the 66th Cannes International Film Festival (May 15-26) is La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), a feature film written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino. The film is the fifth collaboration between Sorrentino and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, and coincidentally the fifth Sorrentino movie to be invited to participate in the Cannes Film Festival.
La Grande Bellezza is set and filmed in Rome and looks at the Eternal City through the jaded eyes of writer/journalist Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo), whose personal stories about Roman nobility, actors, fallen aristocrats, intellectuals, social climbers and high-class criminals come to life in the most beautiful villas, sumptuous apartments and verdant terraces of Rome, rather like a modern-day Babylon. Rome is a silent protagonist in this film, brooding and beautiful, like a quiet heroine.
The movie was shot in Rome during the hot summer of 2012 using a combination of two ARRI 535 cameras and one ARRICAM Light, Ultra Prime and Angenieux zoom lenses, and KODAK 35mm film stock. “We also used White Pro-Mist® filters,” says Bigazzi, “as the aura of light they provide--especially in strong overexposures against deep blacks--seemed to be the right choice for the film look.”
Bigazzi has nothing but praise for director Sorrentino. He describes him as “an artist with innovative ideas for both the form and content of filmmaking.” He adds that “his attention to frame composition and scene conception together with his editing capabilities makes him one of the most brilliant innovators in Italian cinema. For him, every movie is a challenge and he tries never to repeat what he has done on the previous one. Working with him is also a challenge as the enormous quantity of shots he requires, and the speed of his decisions is an ongoing creative stimulus.”
Bigazzi continues, “The challenge with La Grande Bellezza was to create a movie with extreme contrast that was also pleasing. There are many high-contrast scenes in which there are sudden changes from dark to dazzling highlights. We used KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for both day and night shots but pushed and pulled it to its limits. Almost all of the night shots, for example, were pushed to 1000 ASA to get more sensitivity without losing speed whilst many of the day shots were processed using the (KODAK VISION3 500T) 5219 at 250 ASA to increase contrast reduction. The simplicity and flexibility of using film are factors that helped enormously with the speed that Paolo continuously requires on set.”
“In fact we carried out several tests prior to shooting to decide whether to shoot on film or digital,” admits Bigazzi. “Although there are clear improvements in digital media, we preferred the flexibility, versatility and the three-dimensionality of film. The details in the blacks, the faithful color reproduction and the ability to create nuances are all unbeatable qualities of film. Paradoxically too, film grain, at once realistic and truthful, is a feature that I feel is sadly lacking in movies shot on digital.”
Bigazzi cites the long opening sequence of the movie as one of the most impressive and challenging shots. “It is Gambardella’s birthday, and it is a night shot with many characters on the roof of a building in Rome,” he explains. “We were shooting simultaneously with two cameras and one Steadicam, and the field was 360˚. I needed to illuminate the mass of people but avoid the clutter on the stage with stands and projectors. In collaboration with my set designer, Stefania Cella, I selected some scene lamps that could be framed but also used. So lighting footboards, LED lights and a pleasing décor have all contributed in creating what I think is one of the most successful scenes of the movie. This opening sequence is very powerful and prepares the viewer for the magic about to unfold in La Grande Bellezza.”