Visual fantasy

Carlo Poggioli on The Last Planet, The New Pope and the impact of Federico Fellini

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Carlo Poggioli with Anne-Katrin Titze: “Satyricon by Fellini was one that made me think about Fellini and cinema costumes. And then Amarcord. Following this idea, that for me, the cinema was Federico Fellini. And when I worked with him, my dream came true.”
Carlo Poggioli with Anne-Katrin Titze: “Satyricon by Fellini was one that made me think about Fellini and cinema costumes. And then Amarcord. Following this idea, that for me, the cinema was Federico Fellini. And when I worked with him, my dream came true.” Photo: Virginia Cademartori

In 2020, Terrence Malick’s The Last Planet, starring Matthias Schoenaerts (Malick’s A Hidden Life, Alice Winocour’s Disorder), Géza Röhrig (László Nemes’s Oscar-winning Son Of Saul) and Tawfeek Barhom (Reed Morano’s The Rhythm Section) with Ben Kingsley, Mark Rylance and Joseph Mawle, and Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope series (starring John Malkovich and Jude Law with Javier Cámara, Cécile de France, Silvio Orlando, Ludivine Sagnier, Ramón García, Marilyn Manson, and Sharon Stone) are two of the most anticipated projects.

Jude Law and John Malkovich star in Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope
Jude Law and John Malkovich star in Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope

Carlo Poggioli is the consummate, imaginative costume designer for both and has worked with Paolo Sorrentino since 2015 (Youth, The Young Pope, Killer In Red, Loro 1, Loro 2).

When I met Carlo Poggioli at Ann Roth’s apartment on a rainy fall afternoon, the day after her birthday, Ann and Carlo clued me in on the films where he was her assistant on Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, to their glorious costume collaboration on Cold Mountain.

Carlo told me about the four directors who had the greatest impact on him. We start in reverse order on New Year’s Day with Terrence Malick and Paolo Sorrentino and in the next feature, work ourselves back to Terry Gilliam and the maestro of cinema himself, Federico Fellini.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Do you remember the first time you noticed a costume in a movie when you were little?

Carlo Poggioli: I was shocked always. I grew up with a family that loved to go to the theatre. I grew up with opera. I was very very young and they brought me to the opera. The first thing that was fascinating was opera and theatre, before the cinema. But I loved films. My father was a big fan of Vittorio De Sica. Also in the Sixties, I mean, I was seven years old at the end of the Sixties. So I went to see all these films.

Carlo Poggioli is the costume designer for Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope and The New Pope
Carlo Poggioli is the costume designer for Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope and The New Pope Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Any particular costume that stuck in your head?

CP: I was shocked when I saw Satyricon, that was in the Seventies. Satyricon by Fellini was one that made me think about Fellini and cinema costumes. From that I started to follow Fellini. I was a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Naples.

E La Nave Va [And The Ship Sails On] was another one when I was young during the academy times, end of the Seventies, beginning of the Eighties. And then Amarcord. Following this idea, that for me, the cinema was Federico Fellini. And when I worked with him, my dream came true.

AKT: And then the third one is Sorrentino? [Carlo’s quartet of his most important directors includes Terry Gilliam at spot number two].

CP: The third one is Sorrentino. Paolo, he is like Fellini. He reminds me of Fellini in a way. In another way he is completely different. But this kind of visual fantasy. And one I discover now, that I'm so lucky, so glad, is Terrence Malick. I'm doing this film with Terrence Malick.

John Malkovich in the red shoes with Javier Cámara and Silvio Orlando in Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope
John Malkovich in the red shoes with Javier Cámara and Silvio Orlando in Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope

AKT: A new project?

CP: It's a new project. It's called The Last Planet for now. We know that it is about Jesus [Géza Röhrig] and St. Peter [Matthias Schoenaerts]. And I discover another world to work with Terrence, because he has a completely other vision from all the others that I met in my life.

It's so simple when he shoots. He has such wonderful ideas. He doesn't want so many people around so it's a small crew with not a lot of money. But the creation that he does - when I go on set each morning, there's always something new.

AKT: You are working on this right now? Where do you shoot?

CP: Yes. We shot in Iceland, we shot in Turkey, Malta, and now we're moving to Morocco.

AKT: So you are all over the place!

CP: All over the place! Terrence is amazing. His is another kind of vision. From Fellini, Paolo - it's the kind of film that I like. They are not so real. They have a touch of fantasy always. But it's a fantasy that reminds you of a reality. How the reality can change. That is important and what I like.

Carlo Poggioli on Jude Law and the red shoes in The New Pope: “Jude was looking at the shoes of Malkovitch, kind of wondering ‘Why are they much more elegant than mine?’”
Carlo Poggioli on Jude Law and the red shoes in The New Pope: “Jude was looking at the shoes of Malkovitch, kind of wondering ‘Why are they much more elegant than mine?’” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Fantasy grounded in reality - for you at the moment, grounded in church reality.

CP: Yeah.

AKT: Do we want anything Catholic? Whom do we get for the costumes? You!

CP: It looks like it. And also there's the strange thing, I'm Lutheran.

AKT: So am I.

CP: Oh yeah? My father was a pastor. My father was the only Italian Lutheran pastor in Italy.

AKT: Wow, that's funny. And you're dressing the Popes!

CP: My father did many things in the schools in the South [of Italy]. We're talking 1950s, of course, when he started with the Lutheran church. He built three schools and a hospital around Naples. So I grew up around these Lutheran things.

AKT: Maybe that's exactly why you are so good with Catholic costumes.

CP: Maybe the distance.

László Nemes’s Son Of Saul star Géza Röhrig is Jesus in Terrence Malick’s The Last Planet
László Nemes’s Son Of Saul star Géza Röhrig is Jesus in Terrence Malick’s The Last Planet Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Yes, the distance of the observer.

CP: Yeah, in the Lutheran church, you know, Jesus had brothers. But that is not accepted today from the Catholic church, because otherwise Mary was not a virgin. So the translation, what my father was telling me when I was a kid, was that the Catholic church translated 'brothers' as 'cousins'. But in effect, he had brothers and the strange thing is that Terrence [Malick] is calling them 'brothers' of Jesus, not cousins.

And also, when I worked with Paolo, I knew many things that Paolo didn't know I knew behind the scenes of the Vatican. Some strange stories. When I was a kid, my father was one of the first ones that was doing ecumenical relationships with the Orthodox, with the Catholic church. I was at so many dinners that were boring for me when I was young, discussions with my father.

AKT: And now it all comes back!

CP: It's so strange, no?

AKT: My other grandparents were Catholic and I remember going to church with them. But because I was Protestant, I wasn't allowed to kneel and had to stand.

Cécile de France returns as Sofia in Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope
Cécile de France returns as Sofia in Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CP: Or make the cross!

AKT: You know what I'm talking about.

CP: And they are all looking at me. Why don't I do the cross? And I have to explain.

AKT: Exactly. They get the wafer and we don't.

CP: Because it's so different.

AKT: It's so funny. I never would have thought that I would talk with you about these experiences. A few words about Loro, the Berlusconi film.

CP: Loro, that was another great thing, that unfortunately in Italy didn't go so well because Paolo divided it into two films.

AKT: I saw it as one [at Open Roads: New Italian Cinema in New York].

CP: That was the two together. In Italy it was split into two. It was a shame because many people lost the importance of the film together. That operation didn't work well. That's unfortunate because I think it's a picture of our society, not just about Berlusconi, but about the system that we have.

Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life in New York
Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life in New York

AKT: And working with Toni Servillo?

CP: It's amazing. To work with Paolo it's fantastic.

AKT: If you compared that project with dressing Jude Law, what are some of the major differences?

CP: Of course it's a completely different story. In fact on this one I worked with John Malkovich, who is The New Pope. And with Jude, it was very funny, because, of course they are two different characters completely. But when they met each other, Jude was very jealous what I was making for Malkovitch. "He's much more elegant than me!" Jude is another story, funny story. When they met each other they had red shoes that Louboutain made for us. The ones they made for Jude, that I ask them to make for Jude, were only red, like a Ferrari.

AKT: I see.

CP: But the new ones that Louboutain made for Malkovitch, they were in velvet, printed velvet, very very elegant. So when we had the scene with the two Popes, Jude was looking at the shoes of Malkovitch, kind of wondering "Why are they much more elegant than mine?"

The New Pope poster - starts on HBO - January 13, 2020
The New Pope poster - starts on HBO - January 13, 2020

AKT: It's so perfect, because it's about red shoes. Red shoes representing vanity and it's usually the women punished for wanting them, the ballet, the fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen. And there you have the two Popes, John Malkovitch and Jude Law pining for them. I love that.

CP: Absolutely. Also the real thing for the Pope, because the red shoes, they mean the Blood of Jesus. That is the fact why the Pope sometimes has red shoes, to remind of the Blood of Jesus. The sense of the red shoes was because the Catholic church says, we have to put a sign of the Blood of Jesus and they are on the shoes.

Coming up - Carlo Poggioli on Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, The Zero Theorem, and The Brothers Grimm, and getting his start with Federico Fellini.

Read what Carlo Poggioli and Ann Roth had to say on working together during The English Patient and Roth on creating the backstory.

The New Pope starts on January 13 on HBO.

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