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Ira Sachs cinema is comprised of beautifully understated dramas about ordinary people, often featuring an element of autobiography, and engaged with real world politics. 'Vaudeville' (1992), which followed a troupe of lesbian and gay circus performers, explored political and societal issues through its perfectly crafted microcosm, while 'The Delta' (1996) focused on a young man leading two very different lives. 'Forty Shades of Blue' (2005), a love triangle featuring a young woman, her much older once-famous rock legend husband and his son, was Sachs' breakout hit, which led to his helming the 1940s-set noirish thriller 'Married Life' (2007), starring Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams and Chris Cooper. 'Keep the Lights On' (2012) is the director's most personal film to date, a semi-autobiographical account of a relationship in which one character is unable to kerb an increasingly destructive lifestyle. Further acclaim and commercial success followed with the bittersweet 'Love is Strange' (2014), about an older couple (Alfred Molina and John Lithgow) forced by bigotry and economic circumstances to give up their apartment of 20 years and are briefly separated. The changing face of property and gentrification in New York plays a key role in 'Little Men', a nuanced family drama that proved to be one of the more timely films of 2016.
Fellini's heir apparent, Paolo Sorrentino is a filmmaker whose mastery of the camera has produced images that edge towards the ecstatic. This became clear with his sophomore feature – the first to be distributed internationally – 'The Consequences of Love' (2004). Starring his on-screen alter-ego Toni Servillo, the film is a gangster drama dressed up as a character study of an elegant man living alone in a beautiful Swiss lakeside hotel. His past unlocks the mystery of who he is but his future is decided by the people he encounters on a daily basis. From it's lengthy opening shot the film is a gorgeously shot – by regular cinematographer Luca Bigazzi – and darkly humorous tale. Misanthropy is thrown into the mix for 'The Family Friend' (2006), a tale of greed and desire with a sting in its tale. With 'Il Divo' (2008), Sorrentino engages with the corruption of politics head on, telling the story of disgraced statesman Giulio Andreotti, played with vampiric glee by Servillo. (The actor is set to play Silvio Berlusconi in Sorrentino's 2018 return to the Italian political scene with 'Loro'.) 'This Must Be the Place' (2011) is the first of Sorrentino's two English language features – the other is the enjoyable but minor 'Youth' (2015). Starring Sean Penn as a Robert Smith-style rock star who is sets out to uncover his father's past, it was critically panned at the time of its release, but profits from an outsider's view of America and is at worst a curio. Sorrentino's most critically and commercially successful work on the large and small screen is 'The Great Beauty' (2013) and 'The Young Pope' (2016). The former is a rapturous paean to Rome and the director's most open homage to Fellini. 'The Young Pope', featuring a career best performance by Jude Law, is a fascinating account of life in the Vatican.