Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak
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….a memorable piece of work.
If you want corrupted power in all its lurid excess then, in the European context, you have to go to Italy which has an almost-proud tradition stretching right back to the barking mad Roman emperors. Paolo Sorrentino takes on the life of such a leader in the jaw-dropping career of Silvio Berlusconi.
If you think this crazy political biopic is overdone, you have to remind yourself that Berlusconi is real and wonder how much of the film is actually an exaggeration. That’s part of the delicious fun because, although the implications for the body politic in Italy are as serious as ever, there is no other way to depict Berlusconi.
Sorrentino is an experienced filmmaker, of course. He has made numerous films (and recently directed the TV series The Young Pope), but is best known outside Italy for The Great Beauty. There too, a lavish style and grand set pieces produced a lush visual experience that was almost overwhelming. If you want austere, go somewhere else.
However, Loro isn’t just an exercise in visual overload, there is also actor Toni Servillo’s complex portrayal to consider. It must have been a role of a lifetime in some ways. Servillo doesn’t succumb to the temptation to settle scores by portraying the man as either evil or a black hair-dyed buffoon. What is impressive about the performance is that he makes Berlusconi a complex, real person.
Perhaps Sorrentino’s final takeaway is that he was above all a great salesman with all the falsity and charm that could imply. There is a wonderful extended scene in the film where we see Berlusconi sell a dodgy investment opportunity to a lonely middled age woman down the phone. As with wooing the nation, he has to go from unknown quantity to trusted friend by saying whatever the hell it takes.
There are many riveting scenes in this long film. There was so much material that Sorrentino made two long films, a part 1 and 2 in the true Godfather tradition, which were screened at the Italian Film Festival, however here, we get a condensed version at 2.5 riveting hours.
Though Berlusconi might like to present himself as a man of the people who got there through sheer will, this is not the whole story. He also, more or less, owned the mainstream Italian media at one point, so was able to carefully project his image. Imagine Trump and Murdoch rolled into one. And then there are the ‘bunga bunga’ parties (sex parties with scores of beautiful call girls in various states of undress) without which no portrait of the Berlusconi era would be complete.
Sorrentino has a pimp-like character here called Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who, knowing Berlusconi’s weakness for such pleasures, assembles a small army of ‘girls’ as a way into the political inner circle. The Great Beauties perhaps. These parties in the mansion are loosely choreographed ballets of lust, over which Sorrentino’s camera swoops and whirls. Like the film as a whole, they are highly stylised. But then, as they say, the style is the man. It is certainly a memorable piece of work.