Released in two parts in Europe, the edited Australian release of Paolo Sorrentino’s Silvio Berlusconi film remains a grandiose, over the top saga.
Sorrentino has a deep love of wild extravagance (well in evidence in his Youth and Oscar-winning The Great Beauty), and while that might seem appropriate in a movie about Berlusconi, it’s nevertheless all too much to take in here. The first act (before Silvio even appears) is massively expensive-looking and full of swooping cameras, beautiful (and often naked) women and thundering soundtrack cuts, and then the Prime Minister of Italy turns up and it goes completely crazy.
An opening disclaimer (in English) mentions “imaginary characters” and this being an “original work”, which therefore means that we’re being told point blank that it’s all pretty much made up, and while that might be a welcome admission, it’s still fairly infuriating. After all, if it’s not even close to the real story of Berlusconi then what’s the point?
At first you might think that Riccardo Scamarcio is playing the young Silvio (why else would he have such a prominent role early in the film?), but in fact he’s Sergio Morra, a sleazy businessman from Taranto who traffics in gorgeous escorts so that he can bribe local politicians. It’s 2006 or so (dates aren’t actually revealed though), and he plans to travel to Rome with the scarily ambitious Tamara (Euridice Axen) to get closer to true power.
Lots of gymnastic sex scenes and nasty skullduggery later and Sergio is living in a Sardinian villa that overlooks Berlusconi’s palatial summer residence, and he stages a huge party full of half-naked escorts soaked in MDMA in order to get Silvio’s attention – and certainly does. We then meet the 70 year old Signor Berlusconi, who we first see in drag for some reason, and he’s played by Sorrentino’s regular collaborator Toni Servillo with a heady mixture of cheesy smiles, jowly menace and plenty of spirited gesticulations. And suddenly and jarringly the movie becomes all about him.
Long, would-be-comic dialogue sequences with indulgent cinematography attempt to show us what Berlusconi was up to during these years, and while the script doesn’t quite come right out and say that he was a criminal, it doesn’t need to as we know full well already. We watch him getting about his sprawling estate, chatting to a small army of employees and hangers-on (the Loro/Them of the title, it seems) and arguing with his long-suffering wife Veronica Lano (Elena Sofia Ricci), who understandably objects to all the drugs, the lying, the unfaithfulness, the crookedness and the bullshit.
Mainly illegal political wheelings and dealings lead to him becoming PM once again, and fittingly a natural disaster then occurs, which leads to him being beloved by the populace for a while before scandal finally (finally!) hits and Veronica demands a divorce. And Sorrentino wants us to feel sorry for Silvio in these inevitable end sequences? Surely you can’t be serious!
With a formidable budget, surreal comedy, Fourth-Wall-breaking and gaudy special effects, Sorrentino’s latest might prove technically impressive, but it’s not enough. And, once more, much of the important detail is also annoyingly excluded: for example, who are all these awful people with Fellini-esque faces? What the heck is really happening in the first half-hour or so? And why should we care?
Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some none-too-veiled about another shady businessman turned political player. No, not Clive Palmer, the other one.
Loro (MA) is in cinemas now