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The Young Pope's Anatomy

All the inspirations behind the series of the moment

The Young Pope's Anatomy All the inspirations behind the series of the moment

Paolo Sorrentino arrives on TV with an ambitious project which he wrote and directed, an international co-production that costed 40 million Euros between Sky Italia, Canal + and HBO, which includes every element of his poetry: electronic lounge music, technical perfectionism, careful composition of the shots, the dreamy feel, the sense of alienation, the visually stunning and disturbing plots.

It's the director himself to speak about the creation of his latest work, a new stylish form of pop entertainment "The idea of talking about the Vatican is very old, going back to when I was 25, 26 years old. At that time the world of the series was not so nice, popular and widespread. Then I do not even know if I would ever become a movie director. But the main idea was the same. [...] The ability to experiment freely along the arc of a story so complex and multifaceted seemed to me an enormous opportunity to explore with the imagination without giving up all those narrative elements that for reasons of time and space, in the cinematic story, often instead they are sacrificed."

The result is The Young Pope, television show divided in 10 episodes set in the heart of the church, the Vatican, between power games and hidden manoeuvres, soon compared by the press to House of Cards or better House of Cardinals. The protagonist, second Frank Underwood, is Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) newly appointed Pope Pius XIII, the first American pope in history.

From New York, he becomes head of the church just at 47 years, elected because believed, wrongly, easily conditioned.

Who is Lenny? "I am a contradiction", he says.

He's cunning and naive, ironic and pedantic, ancient and modern, doubtful and resolute, sorrowful and ruthless, hedonistic and uncompromising, controversial and indecipherable. His character has breakfast with Cherry Coke Zero, smokes, accumulates goods and gifts, talks to kangaroos, prohibits images of himself and quotes Salinger, KubrickBanksy and the Daft Punk – all iconic stars famous for not showing off – as best example of marketing because "only God exists and there are no pictures of him". "The Vatican", he continues, "survives thanks to hyperbole: we also must generate the hyperbole, but this time reversed. I do not exist".

Lenny is not a hero, he hasn't authority nor holiness, he's a young and charming villain, a despotic teenager who dreams to shout aloud to St. Peter's crowd must not forget « to masturbate, to use contraceptives, about abortion, the possibility to celebrate gay marriage, the possibility for priests to marry, divorce, to let sisters celebrating Mass, to play and to be happy », but in reality says no sympathy for homosexuality or for women's emancipation, and a very tough and reactionary position for the future of the church.

Beside him is Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), the American nun who has grown up him as a kid in an orphanage, appointed his private secretary, while against him there is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), secretary of state with a strong resemblance to Andreotti.


FEEL LIKE: Raffaello Sanzio

They called him a genius of change, of assimilation and experimentation, even "divine". Raffaello Sanzio, born in Marche, the son of a painter, an orphan from the age of eleven, is the Renaissance painter par excellence and is also the one that lives in The Young Pope scenes.

No matter if he is the opposite of the protagonist, solar artist an ideal interpreter of classical canonical beauty, the first, despotic and ambiguous the second. And it does not even count that he is very different from that Banksy quoted by Lenny Belardo.

In the corridors of the Vatican, thanks to the protection of Pope Julius II, remains the echo of his presence, of his works: his Madonnas, portraits, School of Athens, the fresco cycles. With his art brought the painting to the highest levels of beauty and harmony. On his tomb in the Pantheon of Rome, it reads: "Here lies Raphael. While he lived Mother Nature feared to be outdone. When he died she feared to die with him", a phrase that would please even the young Pope Sorrentino.


DRESS LIKE: John Galliano for Dior, Nicomede Talavera, Damir Doma

"For every cloak it took us at least one month, all the stones are hand sewn, we tried to do it the traditional way if possible as well as things were done by the Popes," says Carlo Poggioli, also costume designer for Paolo Sorrentino's Youth. The man, a former assistant to the trio Pescucci, Tosi, Millenotti, grew professionally at Tirelli in Rome, historical atelier that has designed the costumes for numerous productions, for example, the last movie by Woody AllenCafé Society, TV series Games of ThronesPenny Dreadful and now The Young Pope.

The show's clothes are a mix of ad hoc creations and old pieces. Some even dating back to the eighteenth century, well reflected church's dualism, on the one hand nuns and priests chastened sobriety, recently seen in the collections of designers like Nicomedes Talavera and Damir Doma, while on the other hedonism and luxury of bishops and Pope, well represented by John Galliano for Dior couture in the fall of 2000 with a look that seems to come straight from the wardrobe of Pius XIII.

Fashion in the new Sorrentino's project has a strong visual impact, such as disruptive is Lenny Belardo, a beautiful pope, all too aware to be good looking. Hedonistic, extreme, with the posture of absolute superstar,  has also the absolute monarch attitude, perfectly comfortable while in a cult scene on the soundtrack of LMFAO "Sexy and I know it!", among precious fabrics and crazy jewelry, choose for himself the most opulent clothes, in a blaze of red, white and gold accessories with wide-brimmed hats, already became iconic. Less at ease in reality all these stylistic choices have been for Jude Law, so exhausted because of the considerable weight of the baroque Papal vestments to compare them to two carpets.

However the coolest element of the series is not a tunic or a pair of red shoes sticking out under it, but the white tees worn by Sister Mary with the words "I'm a virgin but this is an old shirt".


THINK LIKE: Apocalissi. Ventidue modi di leggere i libri della Bibbia ("Apocalypses. 22 ways to read the Bible")

In the 90s the Scottish publisher Canongate realized an ambitious and interesting project: to publish one at a time all the individual books of the Bible, accompanied by a short preface in which famous persons tell the world, starting from personal experiences, their relationship with scriptures.

Recently, in the Italian version published by ISBN, these introductions are enclosed in "Apocalissi. Ventidue modi di leggere i libri della Bibbia".

Gospels, Exodus, Genesis, Revelation, the Psalms (and others) read back by the Dalai Lama, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bono, Nick Cave, Will Self and David Grossman become more of a religious text, more of a literary work, are transformed in witness to human wisdom, in a "moral, philosophical, human kaleidoscope".

They are an alternative reading, secular and contemporary, as The Young Pope, allows you to get closer to faith and church with a unique and modern perspective, rooted in the memories and the past. The coolest preface? That of Nick Cave to the Gospel of St. Mark, which has always been heavily influenced by the Old Testament in the composition of his songs, quotes the text as a source of inspiration for his second novel "The Death of Bunny Munro".


SOUND LIKE: Nada "Senza un perché", LMFAO "Sexy and I know it!"

"E tutta la vita gira infinita / senza un perché / e tutto viene dal niente / niente rimane senza di te" sings melancholy Nada from the record player at the center of the papal hearings room, while Pius XIII, lost in a dreamy and sensual vision, sees the first minister of Greenland dance alone. It's a scene with alienating effect, typically of Sorrentino, as fascinating to reporte in a few days the singer with "Senza un perché" at the top of the ranking of the best selling songs on iTunes. So a minor song, from the album of 2004 "Tutto l'amore che mi manca" due to the television effect (but also applies in the cinema, for example, with Tarantino) becomes fashionable, trend as happened with Stranger Things Eggo waffles.

The hit of Nada is just one of the evocative and interesting elements contained in The Young Pope soundtrack curated by composer Lele Marchitelli, who has worked with Sorrentino in The Great Beauty. It starts from the riff in C minor "All Along The Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix played here by the UK rapper Devlin, a few seconds of electric guitar in the opening theme that give way to a mixtape of pop quotes, religious songs, indie rock and electronics.

There's "Hallelujah" by Cohen, diegetic, enters via television sung by an X Factor contestant, but also "Blues from an Airplane" by Jefferson Airplane that accompanies the memory of young Sister Mary who plays basketball. The Gregorian chants live in harmony with the "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert and the minimalism of Arvo Pärt immerses viewers in gloomy, almost ethereal, spiritual atmosphere and sometimes clashes with the Vatican inhabited by falsehoods and told power plays by Sorrentino. Then there are the electronics players like Trentemøller or hidden, but the American indie musician Andrew Bird and very Italian Domenico Modugno and Roberto Murolo too.

The surprise? LMFAO "Sexy and I know it!", listened by Lenny Belardo while, vain and excessive, chooses the clothes, the most rich and sumptuous, which will transform him into Pius XIII, plus a modern Sun King, more a rock star than a pope.

Megalomaniacal, conceited, unrestrained and beautiful New Pope dress to the rhythm of this dance successfully tapping the top of Sorrentino's irony.


TASTE LIKE: Cherry Coke Zero for breakfast



If Sorrentino conceives and realizes a captivating series, defined by many as a masterpiece, much of the success belongs to the actors, all very good from Diane Keaton to Silvio Orlando, perhaps for many the real surprise of the season.

And then there's Jude Law, who with her damn charming face and a big talent in a sublime way plays an almost bipolar Pope, torn between the desire for power and loneliness resulting from the abandonment of the parents.

It's so good to transform an unpleasant and moody antihero into a fragile creature with a big void to be filled for which the viewer is allowed to cheer.

Iconic when, speaking to the premiere of Greenland, he says: "I know, I'm very nice. But please, let's not think about it now. "