Martin Scorsese to Play Dante Alighieri’s Mentor in Julian Schnabel’s Upcoming ‘In the Hand of Dante’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Martin Scorsese will soon be seen on the big screen, and he won’t be playing himself.

The master director, who is being feted with Berlin Film Festival’s Honorary Golden Bear on Tuesday night, has a small but powerful role playing an elderly sage who influences Dante Alighieri while he is writing “The Divine Comedy” in Julian Schnabel’s upcoming crime mystery “In the Hands of Dante.”

More from Variety

Though Scorsese has cameoed in many of his movies and occasionally performed in films by other directors – he played Vincent van Gogh in a segment of Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film “Dreams” and also performed as voice talent as the loan shark pufferfish in “Shark Tale” – this role is likely to be among his meatiest.

“He is extraordinary in the film,” Schnabel tells Variety, calling Scorsese’s part “a brilliant, important role” and adding: “You can’t take your eyes off him.”

Two other people who have seen “In the Hand of Dante” footage – which Schnabel is currently editing in New York – have also been impressed by the intensity of Scorsese’s performance.

“Hand of Dante” features a star-studded cast comprising Oscar Isaac, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Gerard Butler and Al Pacino. It is based on the eponymous book by Nick Tosches, which revolves around a handwritten manuscript of Dante Alighieri’s poem “The Divine Comedy” that is found in the Vatican library. The poem makes its way from a priest to a mob boss in New York City, where it is taken by Tosches after he’s asked to verify its authenticity. Then, like Dante, Tosches embarks on his own journey.

But the “Hand of Dante” narrative also criss-crosses between the 14th and 21st centuries, with some characters having parallel lives in different eras.

One strand follows Dante while he is writing “The Divine Comedy” and the influences upon him.

“I don’t know if he’s a scholar, but he’s somebody who knows things,” Schnabel said while on set in Italy describing the unnamed character played by Scorsese in his film. Guido Cavalcanti, an Italian poet who was also a friend and intellectual influence on Dante Alighieri, sends Dante to Venice to see the sage played by Scorsese for advice on his journey in “The Divine Comedy.”

“It’s sort of before the poem is finished. So this guy has been an influence on Dante, and he’s probably the only one whose review he cared about,” Schnabel said, adding that Dante goes to see the character played by Scorsese “a few times over a period of 20 years, but sort of compressed into a few visits.”

“Hand of Dante” also features British musician and actor Benjamin Clementine (“Dune”) playing a quintessentially demonic character who seesaws between past and present. Clementine also contributes to the film’s score. Other A-list recruits comprise John Malkovich and Louis Cancelmi (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) who plays both a present-day hitman named Lefty and nobleman Guido da Polenta, who was Dante’s benefactor.

The indie film – which may surface at the Venice Film Festival – was largely shot in Italy in locations including Sicily, Venice, Verona, Rome and Viterbo. Producers include Jon Kilik, Francesco Melzi d’Eril for Italy’s MeMo Films and Julian Schnabel’s son, Olmo, for Twin Productions. Besides acting in “Hand of Dante,” Scorsese is among the executive producers.

WME Independent and CAA are co-repping sales.

The “Hand of Dante” screenplay was co-written by Julian Schnabel and his wife and close creative collaborator Louise Kugelberg, who previously co-wrote Schnabel’s 2018 drama “At Eternity’s Gate” about the last days of Vincent van Gogh. Kugelberg is also serving as co-editor on “Hand of Dante,” in tandem with Italy’s Marco Spoletini, who is Matteo Garrone’s regular editor. The “Hand of Dante” cinematographer is Roman Vasyanov, whose credits include David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad,” “End of Watch” and “Fury.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.