Loro (2018)

Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro is a satirical biopic that sets its sights squarely at Berlusconi. Such a shame that it’s an empty sprawling mess of a film: all style and no substance.

It was first released in Italy as two, separate 100-minute movie; the international release combines these to a single two-and-a-half-hour sprawl. Possibly, this international cut might be a victim of the editing suite: characters set up to be major players vanish without a trace and sub-plots involving blackmail and manipulation fizzle out inconsequentially. I don’t know what was exorcised by the cut – I read that virtually all the Burlusconi character’s screen time was retained – but I doubt the missing footage could do much to rehabilitate this disaster. It’s tonally superficial, the players are vapid caricatures with no depth or character development and there’s absolutely no intrigue or momentum.

The film opens with a slyly cautious, lawyer-baiting on-screen disclaimer that characters and situations are fictional and aren’t intended to resemble real people, living or dead, although perhaps inspired by some newspaper cuttings. Its length and caution raised some chuckles in the cinema. Sadly, the disclaimer is probably the most entertaining part of the film.

Riccardo Scamarcio as Sergio with Kasia Smutniak as Kira

The film initially concerns Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio, Abel Ferrarra’s Pasolini), a Neapolitan player who has outgrown his pond and wants to play with the big fish in Rome. Casting his sights high, he partners with the seductive Kira (Kasia Smutniak) whose power derives from her close access to Berlusconi. Sergio’s plan is to attract Berlusconi’s attention by hosting a wild party in a rented villa within sight of the prime minister’s Sardinian residence; with even more sexy women than Berlusconi’s own notorious ‘bunga bunga’ parties. Meanwhile Sergio’s partner Tamara starts an affair with a high-level politician who knows Berlusconi and then blackmails him, threatening to tell his wife. We see Sergio planning the party and endlessly recruiting young models who are more than willing to flaunt their ‘assets’. Berlusconi himself is discussed in hushed tones, referred to as ‘lui lui’ (him him), as this long section is clearly intended to build up his stature and reputation.

Toni Servillo playing a despondent Berlusconi

It’s a full forty minutes before we meet Burlusconi himself, played by Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo. Servillo plays him with relish, with a knowing grin and strange eccentricities. It’s the mid-2000s and Berlusconi is out of office – Forza Italia has collapsed, and he’s biding his time in his summer retreat. However, after the delayed entrance he’s a bit of a disappointment, harmless, despondent, a little depressed. His 27-year marriage to Veronica Larfio (Elena Sofia Ricci) is disintegrating, despite Berlusconi’s nostalgic romantic flourishes.

Berlusconi is played as an eccentric caricature, engaging a guitarist to accompany his occasional outbursts into song like some sort of court musician. His back garden includes a sheep on the back lawn that lives in a child’s colourful castle and a fairground carousel. He repeatedly promises his guests that one day they will witness the spectacular eruption of the miniature fake, priapic ‘volcano’ that he has landscaped in his garden. It’s all a bit Neverland, and more than a bit pathetic. But despite these amusingly weird characteristics, he’s never really very interesting and we neither care for him much, nor do we despise him. If anything, Sorrentino mildly flatters Berlusconi, which is not what I’d have expected.

Berlusconi in song!

As the film meanders forward, we see Berlusconi manoeuvre himself back to power with the help of Santino Recchia (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), and there’s a plotline concerning the devastating 2009 Aquila earthquake and its impact on the impoverished villagers that jars tonally with the rest of the film.

A grin as Berlusconi regains political power

Lori is beautifully filmed, the cinematography, lighting and production line is expertly done.  The beautiful people in beautiful surroundings wearing beautiful costumes (and often rapidly disrobing).  However, it all seems superficial.  There are endless displays of sex and nudity, of nubile female flesh.  Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi’s camera and Cristiano Travaglioli’s edit is one amplified
laviscious male-gaze at endless party scenes but despite Berlusconi’s notoriety it’s mostly like a tacky 1980s Pirelli ‘glamour’ calendar.  The film seems to want to both condemn and savour the immorality. Debauchery was never so dull. 

The crazy, drug-fuelled debauchery swiftly becomes dull – Riccardo Scamarcio as Sergio

The earthquake narrative is perhaps the most tasteless and heavy handed and has religious echoes. The earthquake coincides exactly with the moment of Berlusconi’s confirmation as Prime Minister, not unlike when the death of Mel Gibson’s Christ seemed to trigger tremors that caused the destruction of the Temple Mount in The Last Temptation of Christ. Later, Berlusconi visits emaciated villagers who have lost their homes, dispensing promises of a better future (and, bizarrely, a new set of dentures), a bit like a beatific messiah. Near the end, we watch a crane lift a pieta statue from the ruins of the Aquila church and the villages gaze at this spectacle wistfully, and the camera slowly pans over the faces of exhausted firemen, lit like a Caravaggio painting.

This latter scene is reminiscent of the Christ statue helicoptered over Rome in La Dolce Vita.  Like that film, Loro tries to depict the detached, debauched lives of the privileged rich, and contrast it with the everyday people the ‘them’ (loro) of the title. But Loro lacks the flair and brilliance of Fellini’s seductive masterpiece.

Towards the end of the film, Sorrentino tries to sum-up with some sort of message, of regrets or judgement, by way of a sequence of dialogues between Berlusconi and others, but even this is trite, heavy handed and implausible, and only serves to expose the vacuity of the preceding two hours of screentime.

Toni Servillo seems destined to play Berlusconi

Amidst this mess, there is one scene that is masterfully compelling. To buoy himself up in the midst of his despondency, Berlusconi picks a name out the phone book to cold-call a housewife, just to see if he can sell her a new-build apartment. We watch him coax and manipulate her, defly adapting his tactics in response to her doubts and reluctance. Servillo’s face lights up as he gets back in the game, seeing how he can still work his charm and charisma.

But sadly, the magnificence of that single scene just emphasises the film’s failings. In the end, Loro is a dull, pointless film. Its satire is fatally blunted by what seems to be a tacit admiration of the tawdry glamour. It presents an overlong confused debauchery-by-numbers. What a wasted opportunity.

Kasia Smutniak as Queen Bee
Belusconi the charismatic showman

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