During a tumultuous period in the career of Silvio Berlusconi, as his marriage to second wife Veronica Lario fractures, LORO speculates on what may or may not have taken place behind closed doors, depicting a wide variety of characters from multiple levels of society and their attempts to either ingratiate or distance themselves from him.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writers: Paolo Sorrentino (story), Paolo Sorrentino (screenplay)
Stars: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio
Subtitled in English
Cast your mind back to the mid-2000s, when a bombastic, womanizing businessman/media mogul with a tendency to make off-the-cuff remarks saturated with sexism rose to the highest levels of political office. Feeling nostalgic for the good old days when you could turn away from such a scene with a superior sense that it would never happen here? If you’re experiencing a bit of queasiness about the turn that history has taken, Loro is probably not the film for you. Look closely at the bacchanalian depravity suffusing Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest fantastical satire of politics and power, and you’ll be hit with the sad supposition that it could—gulp—get worse.
Loro positions itself as a dramatization of the circus of vice surrounding Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the mid-2000s. It’s a sprawling, sometimes psychedelic, sinister depiction of the lengths that people will go to in order to infiltrate the politician’s inner circle. “Loro” translates as “them,” and this film argues that there is a “them” (the sycophants and the suck-ups) and a “him” (Berlusconi); names are almost less significant than portentous pronouns.
It’s somewhat surprising, then, that for the first half or so the film focuses not on Berlusconi, but on the young, hungry, and brutal Sergio Morra (played by Riccardo Scamarcio), an escort-fixer who sources nubile young things for older, decidedly less-toned men. A slippery wheeler-dealer nurturing a nascent political ambition, he’s set his sights on the most powerful man in Italy, going so far as to rent a Sardinian villa within Berlusconi’s vista. There he throws a rager that makes Harmony Korine’s Spring Break look tame, hoping that Berlusconi will catch a whiff of the pheromones and come on over, allowing Sergio to slip into his orbit.
About midway through the film, there’s a tonal shift, with Sergio taking a backseat role and Berlusconi, masterfully played by Sorrentino’s frequent collaborator, Toni Servillo, moving prominently to the fore. The film was first created as two separate works, and the vestigial architecture of this original structure makes for a slightly awkward viewing experience—a two-part project stitched together, slimmed down for an international audience, but still, at more than two hours long, carrying some excess baggage.
Ironically, when Berlusconi enters the arena in the second half, the partying becomes a little more tame. There’s less cocaine and more pizza. Even the decorations go in a clownish, juvenile direction, with a trampoline becoming a central feature of the celebration. The aging politician—he’s meant to be in his early 70s when the film is set—seems more like a buffoonish uncle than a rapacious villain. The Guardian called this role “the part Toni Servillo was born to play,” and there’s an almost gleeful aspect to the actor’s avuncular, waxy impersonation. When we see him serenade guests on his poolside patio, he sways with a retro, Sinatra-esque charm. Later, when he’s rejected by a young woman because of the way his breath smells (it reminds her of her grandfather), there’s even a kind of pathos. The scent, Berlusconi later reveals, comes from the solution that both men presumably use to clean their dentures.
That hint of piteousness persists just until the moment you remember the fundamental grotesqueness of the situation. This young woman has essentially been offered up as part of the festival feasts. Her skepticism about the whole thing only makes her more appealing to the man who knows no check on his hungers. After the election of 2016, after Weinstein, after Epstein, it’s hard to feel much of anything but disgust for the kind of man whose power is a function of his ability to find compliant prey. No one would accuse Sorrentino’s film of realism. In his director’s notes, he cites Berlusconi’s “delusions” as one of his investigations in this freewheeling film, and Loro is certainly a hyperbolic vision of the twisted psychology of modern politicians. But even as fantastical entertainment, it hits a little close to home.
– CHLOE SCHAMA, Vogue