Loro (2018)

Loro first published by VODzilla.co

Loro starts with an elaborate textual disclaimer, denying the ‘objective truth’ of much of what will follow, while equivocating over just how much should be regarded as pure fiction. Director and (with Umberto Contarello) co-writer Paolo Sorrentino has played this game of (un-)Realpolitik before in Il Divo (2008), his often abstract take on the Prime Ministry of Giulio Andreotti (played by Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo) as a forward-looking allegory of the Berlusconi era that would follow – and now with Loro he turns to Silvio Berlusconi himself (played again by Servillo) from 2006 to 2009, looking for purpose and distraction between Prime Ministries. Sorrentino is well-practised in this sort of material – he tracked the dolce vita of Rome’s partying élites in The Great Beauty (2013), and the hermetic world of labyrinthine political rituals in the TV series The Young Pope (2016). Sorrentino has even himself acted in Nanni Moretti’s The Caiman (2006), another fictionalised film about Berlusconi. 

Loro opens with a bleating white sheep entering the glass doors of Berlusconi’s well-appointed Sardinian mansion, staring at the giant TV tuned into one of the media mogul’s stations, only to drop dead from the intensity of the air-conditioning. While that sheep represents the Italian people, caught in the glare of Berlusconi’s opulence and excess to the point of their own self-destruction, it also symbolises Christianity (Jesus is, after all, the Lamb of God), its values frozen during Berlusconi’s hedonistic reign. Through a neat ring composition, the Church will also feature in the film’s closing images, seriously, seismically damaged but beginning a careful recovery.

Loro then cuts to businessman Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio) on a boat off Apulia, trying to persuade a politician to grant him a contract. The negotiation is not going well, until another boat arrives with Sergio’s guest – a young, athletic prostitute in a bikini who is there to sweeten the deal. It works. Sergio is very much a man of his times, with a profound understanding of the principle that sex sells. He is also ambitious, and knows that if he want to acquire any real power, he needs to attract the attention of Berlusconi – and so he employs an army of attractive women, and starts throwing lavish parties, all designed to catch the former Prime Minister’s eye. In this Sergio is helped by Kira (Kasia Smutniak), who, as Berlusconi’s sometime lover, offers to serve as go-between. It is the same trick Sergio had played on the politician in Apulia – a game of seduction – only on a much larger scale. Berlusconi, however, has long been master of this game, and will not be taken for a ride – and to a man with loyalty only to himself, everyone is disposable. 

Although the version of Loro that the UK is getting is the so-called international cut, whose 145 minutes are nearly an hour shorter than the original diptych of films released in Italian cinemas, it is still a full 40 minutes into its run time before we meet the man referred to by everyone in the film with fawning reverence as ‘lui‘ (or ‘him’). Up until this point, it would appear, in keeping with the film’s title (Italian for ‘them’). that Loro is in fact to be about all those movers and ministers, pimps and sycophants, caught mesmerised in Berlusconi’s orbit – but once the man himself finally appears, in veiled drag as a birthday prank on his long-suffering wife Veronica (Elea Sofia Ricci), the film too gets drawn fully into his field of gravity (and levity), and he will, from this centre, dominate everything that follows.

This is a portrait of an ever-grinning joker, implacable womaniser and distorter of truth, at a time when he is in exile and in between: out of political office, and unable for legal reasons directly to control his own business interests. So the septuagenarian holds court on his vast Sardinian property, sings at any given opportunity, and after a visit from his old business partner Ennio Doris (also played by Servillo), gets back his salesman’s spirit and begins an active return to power. Though a perceptive reader of others, Berlusconi is not really an introspective man. Accordingly his failings and frailties must be exposed by others: the football player Michel Martinez (Yann Gael) who quits Berlusconi’s team AC Milan, spurning the Luciferian offer of money and women; 20-year-old Stella (Alice Pagani) who rejects outright his ‘pathetic’ advances at a party; and Veronica, who distances herself from him more and more, unable to tolerate his endless indiscretions and eager, in the end, to confront him with the discomfort and inconvenience of the objective truth that Berlusconi – and the film – has been evading.

Stylishly shot by Sorrentino’s regular DP Luca Bigazzi in a seductive display of cinematic largesse, Loro is mostly about a very Italian brand of politics in which an ovine populace is transfixed by Berlusconi’s silver-tongued pitch and luxurious mod cons. Yet where Il Divo used Andreotti’s regime to anticipate Berlusconi’s, Loro uses Berlusconi himself – a not-quite self-made superrich entrepreneur, television mogul and populist politician with a wandering eye for pretty young women – to look forward to the empty narcissism and bunga bunga of the Trump era, where no amount of glittering gold furnishings (the title puns on l’oro, the Italian for ‘gold’) can cover up the vulgar drives and immoral excesses of their owner.  

Summary: Party politics abound in Paolo Sorrentino’s imaginative portrait of Silvio Berlusconi as an ageing, empty salesman-cum-seducer

© Anton Bitel