CANNES, France (AP) -- La dolce vita came to Cannes on Tuesday, thanks to a pair of films set in Italy exploring lives of affluent ennui.
Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's "A Castle in Italy" both feature wealthy characters whose lives have an emptiness at their center.
Bruni Tedeschi -- the only woman among the 20 directors competing for Cannes' Palme d'Or and the sister of former French first lady Carla Bruni -- focuses on a Franco-Italian clan facing the loss of its crumbling mansion, its art treasures and possibly its future.
Bruni Tedeschi, who stars and co-wrote the script, incorporated many elements of her own family's life into the story, including her brother's death from AIDS. She cast her mother, Marisa Borini, as the mother of her character, Louise, and her ex-partner Louis Garrel as Louise's younger lover.
The director said using her own life and family members in her work was natural.
"For me, work is a form of therapy," she told reporters. "It helps me sleep better at night.
"I think work protects us from what might be a psychodrama."
Borini said being directed by her daughter was no different to working with any other filmmaker.
"I viewed it as work," she said. "When Valeria said to me cry, I cried. When she said laugh, I laughed. Dance, I danced."
"A Castle in Italy," whose mix of family drama and almost slapstick comedy charmed some viewers and bemused others, is a tragicomedy partly inspired by the plays of Anton Chekhov.
The most obvious point of reference for Sorrentino's film is "La Dolce Vita," Federico Fellini's 1960 portrait of Rome's wealthy, beautiful and absurd.
Sorrentino said he didn't want to dwell on the comparisons -- except in one respect.
"'La Dolce Vita' is a masterpiece," he said, "and my film will become a masterpiece too."
"The Great Beauty" is exuberantly Fellini-esque, with its parade of offbeat and sometimes grotesque characters and its love affair with the city of Rome.
Sorrentino follows Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a writer and man-about-town who has drifted into aimlessness after an early success and is turning 65 with a sense of missed opportunities. The film contrasts bacchanalian revels and vapid dinner parties with soaring music and excursions through the gorgeous squares, churches and palazzi of the Italian capital.
The film is suffused with an air of melancholy and sense of spiritual emptiness, which Sorrentino explained by quoting a character in the movie, a Mother Teresa-style living saint.
"She says, 'You don't talk about poverty. You can only live poverty.' It's like a summary of the film," the director said. "The film doesn't try to tell a tale. It simply tries to portray a poverty that isn't a material poverty, but a different kind of poverty."
Spiritual poverty has rarely looked so lush. "The Great Beauty" of the title is life, but also Rome, a city stuffed to bursting with the ancient and the modern, the sacred and the profane.
Journalists were generally enthusiastic, though some felt the almost two-and-a-half-hour movie was too much of a good thing. The Guardian called it "the film equivalent of a magnificent banquet composed of 78 sweet courses."
Sorrentino, making his fifth trip to Cannes as writer or director of a competing film, said he simply "let myself be overwhelmed by the beauty of the city."
"The city always surprises me, stuns me," said the director, who won Cannes' third-place Jury Prize in 2008 with "Il Divo."
"What I tried to do was let myself be swept along by the beauty of these sights in Rome."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless
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