CASE HISTORY/Travelling with the Pope

Set of “The New Pope” by Paolo Sorrentino. Photo by Gianni Fiorito

The 46th Venice Film Festival included the premiere of two episodes of Paolo Sorrentino’s series, “The New Pope”, the sequel to the highly acclaimed “The Young Pope”, the Oscar winning director’s television series debut presented three years ago also at the Lido.

The new project contains all the unmistakable ingredients of Sorrentino’s movies: a blend of esthetic sense, denial of convention, attention to detail, iconic and ambiguous characters, old acquaintances and new entries, scandals and surprises. There is no doubt that the series will arouse the usual contrasting sentiments between fans and detractors to which the director has accustomed us.

The end of the first season found Pope Lenny Belardo looking out onto a crowded Piazza San Marco in Venice finally showing the faithful a more human face than ever when, like the human being that he is, he is suddenly taken ill after seeing his parents in the middle of the crowd.
A very long coma follows and a period of impasse for the Catholic church which is gripped by scandals that risk overwhelming the upper echelons and external threats that strike at the very heart of the symbols of Christianity.
A situation that only the New Pope of the title, an aristocratic British cardinal with the face of John Malkovich, appears to be able to remedy.
The first episode (the second will be broadcast on TV) is set amid sumptuous reception rooms and tidy English country gardens and presents the character of the future pope, Sir John Brannox, who will take the name of John Paul III.
But Lenny Belardo is more present than ever, as revealed in the trailer for the series which shows him giving a knowing look on the beach of the Lido of Venice wearing white briefs and surrounded by bikini-clad girls.
Loved and cheered like a saint by the crowd, he has to tackle the complex situation of not being the only pope. In the seventh episode (the second one premiered) we return to Venice and witness a miracle.
Without giving away any spoilers about what happens, it is interesting to note the renewed outward look of this new season.

John Malkovich and Jude Law. Photo by Gianni Fiorito

Naturally the mysterious rooms of Vatican power will return, skillfully reconstructed in the Studios of Cinecittà because of the restrictions presented by the real papal headquarters in terms of an audiovisual set. Things have been done on a large scale: the series involved 103 actors and 9,000 extras with a cast that comes from 65 different countries; the140- strong crew filmed for 22 weeks.

A total of eight months of work were required by Cinecittà employees for the indoor and outdoor sets of Saint Peter’s in terms of the planning, construction, first in the workshop and then in the studio, the printing and mounting of flooring and painting, while it took six months just to recreate the majestic Sistine Chapel in the studio.
From the first series we find not only the sumptuous sets but also the incredible work carried out on the costumes: a total of 4,500 of them were recreated to which we should add several hundred rings, the crosses of the cardinals or the nuns whose gray habits were made to measure, as well as skull caps, hats and the very rich papal garments, with a total of 12,000 meters of fabric used.

Some scenes will probably be set once again in the Vatican gardens which, in the first series were reconstructed in different places identified as Villa Medici, the XVI century architectural complex in Pincio, Villa Piccolomini, Villa Doria Pamphilj, the Botanical Gardens, near Gianicolo, Villa Lante a Bagnaia, in the Viterbo area.

The villas are not new to cinema and TV series.
The gardens of Villa Lante, for example, were the Vatican gardens for the ironic “Habemus Papam”, the 2011 movie by Nanni Moretti in which a newly elected pope, played by Michel Piccoli, has a change of mind at the moment of his first speech to the faithful, and in the Rai series “Medici”, about the story of the family of bankers that made Florence great, in which Giambologna’s Fontana dei Mori often acts as a backdrop to the pope’s walks with his guests.
Sorrentino himself gives us a glimpse of Villa Medici at dawn at the end of an evocative night tour in which Toni Servillo and Sabrina Ferilli visit the most beautiful buildings in Rome in what is the director’s declaration of love for the eternal city: “The Great Beauty”.

Returning to the outdoor sets we find Venice exactly as we left it.
A watery procession crosses the Canal Grande, from Punta della Dogana to Ca’ d’Oro, passing under the Rialto Bridge.
Various areas of the lagoon city are involved in the filming: the Fondamenta Nove, the Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo which is overlooked by the Scuola Grande di San Marco, the whole area of the Civil Hospital complex consisting of the entrance, the Chiesa di San Maurizio, Calle Querini, the historic Palazzo Donà dalle Rose and, naturally, Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco.
One month of filming in total.

The city has always fascinated international directors and movie stars, to such an extent that it would be almost impossible to make an exhaustive list of them all.
Among those who have passed through are Woody Allen and Julia Roberts for “Everyone says I Love You”, director Ron Howard and the star Tom Hanks for “Inferno”, Daniel Craig and his predecessor as 007, Roger Moore, and Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones.

The filming in the Veneto region was not, however, limited to the iconic lagoon city but also involved other places like Nervesa della Battaglia, in the province of Treviso, and the Abbey of Saint Eustace where Lourdes was reborn with the help of hundreds of extras.
The set was created along the shores of the river Piave, where the protagonist, John Malkovich, makes a singular speech to the crowd of believers and journalists.
Not far away, in Cortina, the same new pope is filmed zigzagging along the Col Druscè piste in his cassock, a tribute to the real-life person who inspired him and his ideal predecessor, John Paul II, who was immortalized in the Eighties as he was actually skiing on Mount Adamello.
The indoor scenes were instead filmed in a villa in the locality of Crignes. Who can forget that quite a few years ago, back in 1981, it was Roger Moore, once again dressed as James Bond, who traveled along the streets of Cortina and its highest peak, the Tofana di Mezzo, in “For your eyes only” , while the Falzarego Pass, the panoramic road through the Dolomites that connects the Alto Agordino to Cortina, was the set of the 2015 remake of “Point Break”?

Photo by Gianni Fiorito

Moving south, into Lazio, Sorrentino and his pope were not only seen in Rome, but also in Gaeta in the locality of Fontania and on the beach of Serapo.
The small town in the province of Latina is confirmed as a favorite location for movies and international series.
In fact, last year it hosted the filming of “My Brilliant Friend”, the successful drama based on the four-book series by Elena Ferrante produced by Rai Fiction, HBO, TIMvision, Wildside and Fandango.
The beach of Arenauta, together with other places in Lower Lazio, in fact, represented in the drama the beach of the island of Ischia where Elena spends her vacation after school.
Mario Martone, among many others, also chose marine views of the little town, including the cave known as Pozzo del Diavolo or Devil’s Well, to film some scenes of “Capri Revolution” with Marianna Fontana which tells the story of a community of northern Europeans that finds in Capri the ideal place for living in communion with nature and art.
Just off the Gulf of Gaeta, Sorrentino and his pope also landed on Ventotene, the island in the Pontine archipelago which was used as a place of internment for the enemies of the Nazi regime.
The island was also chosen by Nanni Moretti to film the prologue of another movie which, coincidentally, also has a religious background, “The Mass is Ended”, in 1985.

Finally, we also find the new pope at the Hermitage of Santo Spirito, a monastery located on the Maiella, in the municipality of Roccamotrice, in the province of Pescara. Built at a height of 1.32 meters, the hermitage is linked to the figure of Pietro da Morrone, better known as Pope Celestino V, founder of the order of the Celestines who lived as a hermit on this very inaccessible summit in the middle of the XIII century.
The area was also used for filming the recent TV series based on Umberto Eco’s masterpiece “The name of the Rose” with Rupert Everett and John Turturro.

“The New Pope” is an international coproduction between Wildside, Haut et Court TV and The Mediapro Studio, involving Sky, HBO and Canal +.

The first season was successfully broadcast in 154 countries and the second seems to be doing just as well. It is, therefore, to be expected that, after having achieved visibility all over the world, the places used for the filming, from the most acclaimed to the less well-known ones, will be able to increase the numbers of visitors, movie tourists or, even better, television tourists looking for the views they saw and the emotions they experienced thanks to the small screen.

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