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His face is waxy and frozen, topped with an ebony hair-transplant and split with a rictus grin, like the Joker. Italy’s grisly premier plutocrat Silvio Berlusconi is the part Toni Servillo was born to play, maybe the part that all his previous roles for director Paolo Sorrentino have been leading up to. There’s a prototypical sliver of Silvio in the exiled mob functionary Titta in Consequences of Love (2004), the enigmatic mandarin Giulio Andreotti in Il Divo (2008) and especially the disillusioned Roman journalist and boulevardier Jep in La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013). Servillo is always good at the fathomless ennui of the lion in winter, the droll and mordant self-knowledge of someone sadly savouring the various status-trappings of age and male power that he has – almost – ceased to care about.
This is in fact la grande brutezza, the great ugliness born of cocaine, cynicism and prostitute addiction. Berlusconi is shown at first out of power and exhausted in the mid 00s, depressed in a disagreeable new state of political opposition and having to strain every sinew to avoid thinking about the fact that he is 70 years old. Yet in 2008, some coalitionist fancy footwork puts Silvio back in office as prime minister, and the calamitous L’Aquila earthquake one year later, which killed more than 300 people due to poor building regulations, gives him the opportunity for pointless, histrionic grandstanding. This was his political masterpiece of fatuous and operatic self-pity.
Loro is a strange and intriguing film, scripted by Sorrentino with his longtime writing partner Umberto Contarello: sometimes whimsical, sometimes gruellingly sordid, sometimes wayward in those Fellini-esque departures and dreamlike epiphanies of which Sorrentino has made himself such a master. Does it offer a vision of the spiritual heart of Berlusconian darkness? Or something more ambiguous and lenient, a glumly comic vision of an opera buffa figure who has receded into history, long since replaced by Trump and Weinstein as key players of nastiness and misogyny?
For all the tackiness and misery, it actually flatters Berlusconi. Servillo is such a smart and sympathetic actor that he surrounds Silvio with an aura that he doesn’t deserve. And his Berlusconi is shown behaving relatively well: though always a bully and a creep with women, he is depicted as still pathetically in love with his wife, Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci), who has come to despise him. In one surreally composed mirror-image scene, business associate Ennio Doris (also played by Servillo) persuades him to reimburse out-of-pocket investors because it is good publicity and “altruism is the best way to be selfish”.
The film is structurally weird: it is a cut-down amalgam of two separately envisaged movies and a final, definitive shape has eluded Sorrentino. The title, Loro (or “them”) leads you to imagine it will be an ensemble study of various Berlusconi courtiers, hangers-on and wannabes, factual and otherwise, orbiting around the hideous chieftain. They might be the Eminent Berlusconians – or Eminently Horrible Berlusconians. But no. There is really only one character like this: Sergio, played by Riccardo Scamarcio, a seedy guy hero-worshippingly obsessed with “Lui” (him) who gambles every cent he has on renting a villa within view of Berlusconi’s Sardinian mansion, filling it with bikini-clad prostitutes and staging a non-stop reality TV-style poolside party, a pantomime of sexual availability with which he hopes to catch Berlusconi’s hooded eye. Sorrentino nicely catches the panic in the air as Sergio begins to suspect that Silvio will never notice. But his shame and self-loathing are compounded by his realisation that he is still in love with his wife Tamara (Euridice Axen), who has to tolerate the sexual advances of a powerful Berlusconi ally.
In the end, Servillo is good at playing this Servillo-esque version of Berlusconi: a Berluscvillo, hyper-articulate, unrepentant, as alert as a vampire, but entering a twilight zone of super-rich impotence. It’s a flawed, undigested film that, like Sorrentino’s movie Youth, is knowingly indulgent of old men’s foibles. But there is one great scene in which Berlusconi, just to prove he’s still got it, cold-calls a woman out of the blue posing as a realtor and tries to sell her an apartment off-plan. At first dismissive, she begins to yield to Berlusconi’s black magic, his eerie gift of the gab. As he senses she is in his grasp, you can see the dead cells on Berlusconi’s face begin to rejuvenate.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Loro review – Sorrentino steps into Berlusconi’s heart of darkness | World cinema