Loro: Berlusconi film’s misogyny fails to generate even guilty pleasures

Review: Paolo Sorrentino looks a bit like a bad copy of himself in this ugly collage

Toni Servillo as Silvio Berlusconi in Paolo Sorrentino’s new film, Loro. Photograph: Gianni Fiorito

Film Title: Loro

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak, Euridice Axen, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Roberto De Francesco

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 150 min

Fri, Apr 19, 2019, 05:00

   

It comes as no surprise to learn that the latest extravagance from Paolo Sorrentino, a study of Silvio Berlusconi in decline, was released as two features in his native Italy. The joins do look to be showing. Oddly, the film that sounds most like a Sorrentino joint – the one revelling in Felliniesque excess – is the less satisfactory of the competing projects. Loro is at its best when at its most quiet.

Sorrentino looks to have been circling this subject for some years. His first masterpiece, Il Divo from 2008, was a phantasmagorical study of that quieter, craftier Italian politician Giulio Andreotti. A hit in 2012, The Great Beauty, though it has its detractors, still feels like the most beautifully decadent film of the decade. Both those films made use of Toni Servillo and he has, of course, returned to play Berlusconi. We just need to set the machinery rolling. Right?

Not quite. Sorrentino tells his story via a brace of eventually interlocking narratives. Those strands were not divided discretely between the two original films, but much of the first hour is taken up with a repetitive, indulgent examination of a pimp’s efforts to assemble a harem that will lure the former president into temptation. The second half mainly concerns the private distress of Berlusconi as he faces up to decline and desertion. The latter sections are by far the best.

Sergio (Scamarcio) and his partner Tamara (Euridice Axen) are in charge of a small army of prostitutes. The opening act begins as it means to continue with Sergio bringing one of his charges onto a boat and inviting her to spread her legs for a local politician. During the succeeding gyrations, he notices a tattoo of Berlusconi on her bottom and, thus inspired, plots to rent a Sicilian villa next to his target and to fashion a honey trap.

There then follows a great deal of female nudity to a great variety of pop tunes. There’s a blast of The Stooges. There’s a blast of LCD Soundsystem. There’s a fair amount of slinky Italian techno. The women get them out in swimming pools and balconies. One worries a little that, after living too long in Berlusconi’s shadow, Sorrentino has contracted moral Stockholm Syndrome. This goes on for aeons before Servillo totters forwards in his black hair dye.

Orchestrated misogyny

There is at least one thing worse than orchestrated misogyny that guiltily draws you in with the wicked skill of its staging (as Wolf of Wall Street did before it became boring). That thing is orchestrated misogyny that fails to generate even those guilty pleasures. The intoxicating sweep of The Great Beauty is here replaced with pounding, surprisingly ugly collage that fails to allow any personalities to develop. There comes a terrible point in many careers when directors look like bad copies of themselves. Let’s hope Sorrentino isn’t there yet and that this is just a blip.

After far too long a spell, we eventually encounter Berlusconi living in uneasy seclusion with his wife Veronica Lario (the excellent, intelligent Elena Sofia Ricci). It is the second half of the last decade and the old devil is out of power. He plots his return. The subsequent conversations between friends and family – interrupted by occasional returns to tedious bunga bunga – are handled with the same rigour that Robert Guédiguian brought to a very different politician some years ago in The Last Mitterrand. Veronica talks him through his self-deceptions. In a wryly amusing anticipation of #MeToo concerns, a colleague tells a baffled Berlusconi that he must cut down on the kisses and backslaps when meeting visiting premiers. The best scene in the film sees the slippery anti-hero testing his old skills by flogging a non-existent apartment to a stranger on the phone.

At such a moment, Sorrentino and Sorvino encapsulate the amorality and the manipulative flair of a malign phenomenon who hasn’t quite gone away yet. If only they’d made that film and only that film.

Opens on April 19th