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Maestro Aldo Signoretti putting on one of my 3 wigs for my last scene in “Youth.”

This film, “Youth,” has been a wonderful and very different experience for me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with director Sorrentino’s work, he won the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year for “The Great Beauty“ which was a stunning, Fellini-esque, plunge into the world of Roman high society just as his previous “Il Divo” was a plunge into the intertwined corruptions of the government of President Andreotti, the Mafia and the Vatican. In the opinion of many, including myself, Sorrentino has a unique voice and style that is genius. He is what is known as a cinema auteur–an author of his own films as well as director. I have described my experience with him during my first scene in Switzerland in a previous blog (“The Yin & Yang of it All”) and this trip to Rome was for my third and final scene in this film starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz  It was an intense, emotional and physical scene on the floor of an airplane and, once again, I found that Paolo knows precisely what he wants and how he wants to get it and it is never quite as one would expect it to be. For an actor, this is very exciting.

I brought Debi, my assistant, with me this time because she’s never been to Italy although her family on her mother’s side is from Naples. Here we are having a drink in the outdoor restaurant of our wonderful Hotel Russie a few hours after filming ended. (Believe me, I really needed a drink!).

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This is the entrance to the hotel….

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…which is right next to the Piazza del Popolo (The People’s Plaza).

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(another view of Piazza del Popolo)

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I love the wide, beautifully lit corridors in the hotel with the Greek friezes on the walls

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Here’s the view from my hotel window and, below, another view of the other side of the hotel.

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Within a few hours of our arrival from Los Angeles, Debi and I went to Paolo’s apartment for a dinner party on the beautiful, large rooftop terrace of his apartment. (I would have taken pictures but it didn’t feel appropriate) There I met Daniella, Paolo’s wife, a blonde woman in a long, while cotton dress who seemed to radiate light and warmth and love. Turns out she is also an amazing cook who prepared a delicious 4-course buffet for 30 or so quests while always appearing relaxed and joyful. This, by the way, is a quality I totally admire and totally lack. I couldn’t possibly turn out such a meal and, if I was fool-hearty enough to try, I’d turn into a humorless harpy.

That evening, surrounded by Sorrentino’s friends, with perfect wine and a cool summer breeze, I felt so happy, so in love with the relaxed conviviality that is the best of Italian life–nothing pretentious, everything in the right balance. I had forgotten how much I love Italy and Rome in particular. Back in the 60s when I was married to Vadim, I lived in Rome for a year while filming “Barbarella,” learned to speak decent Italian and to appreciate the things that, for me, are special about the country: while life and people in, say, France, have lots of sharp edges, everything in Italy feels rounded, slower, more about the senses and less about the brain. Descartes (cogito ergo sum…”I think, therefore I am”) was, after all, the foundational philosopher of France. In Italy the philosophy seems to be more “I feel, therefore I am.” Then there’s the food! You may think you’ve had Italian food but, unless you’ve eaten in Italy, you don’t really understand what makes it unique. Debi was astonished by, for example, the buffalo mozzarella which has a sweetness and different, more complex texture in Italy than elsewhere, even in the best Italian restaurants in the U.S.  And the spaghetti is ever so slightly thicker and always firmer (more al dente). They use olive oil, not butter, and the fruits and vegetables are unbelievably fresh–hence healthier. One reason for this is visible as you fly into the Rome airport and it is striking: looking down, there is still so much arable farmland, right up to the coastline. In the U.S. you’d look down and see solid development and any coastline would be back-to-back hotels and condos. Italy, for all its industry, seems primarily a land of agriculture. Again, I should have taken a picture out the window but I only slept 2 hours on the 13 or more hour flight and I was brain dead.

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This is a hillside overlooking Rome. I love the Parasol pines you see here.

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I arranged for a tour guide for Debi on Monday and she visited ancient Rome–the Forum, the Coliseum  etc. while I rehearsed the scene for the next day. We met up for lunch and spent the afternoon touring Vatican City. Below is St Peter’s Square:

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For all my many visits to Rome, I had never visited the Vatican before. Partly this is because I am opposed to the very concept of the Vatican as a state, with a seat in the United Nations, vast holdings of property, many billions of dollars held in banks around the world–probably the wealthiest state in the world and it pays no taxes as it strong-arms the political processes of countries in order to deny women their basic human right to control their decision about whether and when to bare a child.

That said, I should have set aside these matters and gone just to see the place as the extraordinary museum it is. Frankly, I had no idea. Here are some attempts to convey the enormity of The Vatican’s treasures:

This is the wall that surrounds the entire Vatican City and the entrance to the museum.

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The halls were crowded with visitors

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This is a small corner of the Papal gardens

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The dome of St Peter’s Basilica seen from the gardens:

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Much of what one sees inside the museum are treasures taken from the homes, palaces and public buildings of ancient Rome and Greece. The church became powerful in 380 AD when Emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity the only official religion of the Roman empire and banned Paganism. Hence, for about a century, Christianity was the only religion practiced all over the Roman empire and when the Roman empire fell, Christianity was the only official authority left and, with their power, they felt free to dismantle the “pagan” buildings and artifacts of the people who had so persecuted them.

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Above is what the ancient buildings looked like–how they were painted.

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I was taken by the violence depicted in this statue.

The Museum is a series of halls, each one dedicated to a specific subject. Below, for example is the Hall of Animals, statues taken from ancient Rome and Greece:

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Below is in the Hall of Maps where the walls are lined with ancient maps of the different states of Italy. The ceiling is astounding.

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There is the Hall with famous Greek statuary. I was especially taken with this statue of the God of Fertility. The testicles growing from his body are those of the wolf, which was considered the most fertile animal:

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The Roman Goddess Diana (above) is the one I identify with. She’s the goddess of mountains, woodlands, women, wild animals and the hunt.

Below is a portion of the sarcophagus of Emperor Constantine’s daughter.

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…and a marble bowl from Emperor Nero’s dining room. Imagine!

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This is 2000-year-old Roman mosaic from the baths of Otricoli outside of Rome.

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Like most of us, I’ve seen pictures of famous portions of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the  Sistine Chapel such as God reaching out to touch Adam’s hand and the Last Supper. But looking up at the complex artistic creation in its entirety–painted by the genius lying on his back on scaffolding–was an emotional experience for me. (No talking or picture taking allowed as the chapel is considered a holy place–unlike the museum.) As you exit the Sistine Chapel you come upon the “Royal Staircase” that leads into the Papal palace. At the top of the stairs you can see the dark door that the Pope enters to go “home.

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Our tour guide told us that the new Pope Francis has chosen to live in the far more humble residency of the cardinals rather than in the usual, elaborate, formal Papal residence. He is sometimes seen driving his car alone at night as he goes out to minister to the poor. One can’t help but worry what might happen to him if he is serious about changing the Vatican bureaucracy including what will be done about the pedophiles in the church and its victims (more about that in a moment).

Next to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is the immense and awesome St Peter’s Basilica. This is the Holy Door in the front of the basilica that is opened only during Jubilee years which occur every 25 years when catholics come from around the world to celebrate mass and receive redemption in the basilica. The tour guide told us in 2000, 35 million catholics came!

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Below is the Holy Door from inside the basilica. Except for the Jubilee Years, it is sealed off. Above it is a mosaic of St Peter holding the keys that Jesus gave him.

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The basilica was built in the baroque style. It took 120 years to build, from 1506 to 166 and 10 architects, including Michelangelo, died working on it. Michelangelo was 89 at the time and was working on the dome (below). It looks as if it was painted but, in fact, all the “paintings” in the basilica are incredibly fine mosaics.

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All the marble in the basilica was taken from the Pantheon and other ancient “pagan” buildings.

The canopy (below) was made by the great Bernini from bronze taken from ancient Pantheon. The white altar is where the Pope conducts mass. 8 meters below the alter is where St Peter is buried.

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Below is the first statue Michelangelo made when he came to Rome from Florence–the pieta of Mary holding the body of her son. (sorry it’s out-of-focus). Interestingly, Mary appears younger than her son.

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This is the Bernini statue to Alexander the 7th. It’s called “Remember You Have To Die.” Ah yes. (I try to live with the constant awareness of my mortality. It gives meaning to life.) The statue shows the Pope on the top surrounded by the 4 Virtues and notice the skeleton hanging off the edge of the pink marble, holding an hour glass.

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I want to like this new pope. He seems to be a truly humble man who cares about the poor. Finally, the other day, he met with a select group of victims of pedophilia at the hands of priests and spoke out forcefully against the sexual abuse of children, begging forgiveness. It remains to be seen whether he will call for the appropriate criminal prosecution of the perpetrators and the cardinals who have protected them, Asking forgiveness means nothing if justice is not done and that includes using a tiny portion of the Vatican’s vast wealth to provide appropriate therapy for its victims. The Pope needs to meet with professionals who specialize is the treatment of trauma in order to see (1) how profound the damage is and (2) that there are specific modalities for healing that must be provided. If Pope Francis can do this, then he will be truly worthy of sainthood.

I would be very sad to leave Rome after these short 3 days were it not for the fact that tomorrow I start 5 days of shooting on the “The Newsroom” finale in Los Angeles. But that’s a whole other story. Stay tuned. Ciao.

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