Italy somehow made Silvio Berlusconi it’s longest-serving prime minister since Benito Mussolini.
The most notorious figure in the European political landscape, Berlusconi was once seen as a phenomenon unique to the notoriously corrupt world of Italian national politics - a man whose three administrations were marked by sex scandals and charges of everything from business- and family-related conflicts of interest to underage prostitution.
‘Loro’ is a biopic written and directed by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino (‘The Great Beauty’, ‘Youth’) about the life of Berlusconi, starring Toni Servillo, who also played a scandal-plagued Italian prime minister for Sorrentino in the Giulio Andreotti biopic ‘Il Divo’. Released in two parts domestically, it has been recut into a single two-and-a-half hour film for international audiences/Oscar consideration.
To a certain degree, Sorrentino’s entire filmography is dedicated to streamlining existential struggles - whether he’s exposing the existential dread of the Roman jet-set (‘The Great Beauty’), or the psychological unraveling of a mafia front man (‘The Consequences of Love’), he tends to strip away narrative contraptions and a clear sense of storylines, reducing the structure to a bare minimum.
'Loro' toggles back and forth between Silvio and Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a youthful businessman determined to impress Silvio. Sergio and his wife Tamara (Euridice Axen) work primarily as glorified pimps, trafficking escorts to bribe politicians for permits and favorus. Sergio finally gets an in via Kira (Kasia Smutniak), who suggests he rent the villa opposite Berlusconi’s home and reel in his target via a mammoth, highly visible party.
Sorrentino’s passion for parties and intrigue are an especially strong asset in 'Loro'. He can seemingly merge well-choreographed social blowouts and to transmit the rush of enthusiasm and vitality they provoke, while also employing a merciless camera capturing the deep squalor of the characters populating them. The protagonists of his movies always seem to be escaping from an unavoidable power-that-be casting a long shadow on their lives, be it the mafia or a state-run conspiracy.
The audience has to wait an hour before Berlusconi hits the screen, so the film is less biopic than an exploration of the social landscape he climbed and the hangers-on who were desperate to be in his presence. Scenes of naked young women dancing and groping each other make up more than half an hour of the film, and it’s very gratuitous (a Paulo Sorrentino film is anything but boring).
Scenes of naked young women dancing and groping each other make up more than a half hour of the film, and it’s very gratuitous (a Paulo Sorrentino film is anything but boring).
Eventually, we see a version of the famous “bunga-bunga” games that Berlusconi used to indulge in after dinner in his Milan residence. The film’s central idea seems to be about the painful process of ageing and the desperation to stay desirable. When an innocent-looking 20-year-old (Alice Pagani) attracts Silvio’s attention and he gets shut down, he is devastated.
'Loro' has a hip indie soundtrack and Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography is gorgeous, full of colour, stunning landscapes and a long tracking shot over the final credits that speaks volumes about class divisions. But whereas ‘The Great Beauty’ has several thematic threads commenting on the church, cosmetic surgeries and how a gifted writer can waste his talent, the story of 'Loro' - decades of tax fraud and corruption trials, sex scandals and revelations - is rather shapeless. Perhaps something was lost in the editing process, but the film lacks narrative momentum. Was a detailed fourth-wall break explanation of the chemical composition of MDMA needed? Possibly not...
Despite this, through Silvio’s salesman-like approach to human interaction and carnal cravings, Sorrentino is able to paint a visceral portrait of Italy’s decline into unrestrained greed, political apathy and hedonism.