Paolo Sorrentino's Loro [Them] is what can only be described as very, very Sorrentino; a distillation of his overriding thematic concerns and an anthology-like compendium of his stylistic tendencies. This is Sorrentino at his most Sorrentino-like. Released in Italy in two parts, Loro 1 (104 minutes) and Loro 2 (100 minutes), for international audiences it was released as one 145-minute piece. Visually extravagant, with a towering central performance from Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo, Loro is a thematic companion to Il divo (2008), and stylistically similar to the masterpiece that is La grande bellezza (2013). However, it's more interested in extravagant Dionysian excess than the former and more satirical than the latter.
Written by Sorrentino and regular writing partner Umberto Contarello, Loro tells the "partly fictionalised" story of Silvio Berlusconi (Servillo) from the April 2006 general election (which he lost by a .1% margin) to the April 2009 L'Aquila earthquake and his return to power. Initially, we follow Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), a pimp hoping to ingratiate himself with Berlusconi, before the film shifts focus to Berlusconi himself, especially the breakdown of his marriage to Veronica Lario (Elena Sofia Ricci).
Firstly, Loro looks absolutely amazing - there's Luca Bigazzi's vibrant and colourful cinematography; Stefania Cella's luxurious and gaudy production design; Carlo Poggioli's decadent wardrobe; and Maurizio Silvi's makeup, hilariously recreating Berlusconi's waxen surgery-enhanced features and permatan. Sorrentino employs such lush, over-the-top beauty because he is satirising soulless elegance. All-but drowning the audience in ultimately meaningless opulence, however, he does run the risk of being accused of recreating and thus validating that which he has set out to satirise.
It's a fine line, but he walks it consistently. Take, for example, female nudity, of which there is a lot. On the surface, it's nudity-for-nudity's sake. However, the lack of a meaningful rationale is precisely the point; to show that the characters dispassionately view women as commodities. Every male, and even some of the females, look at the escorts as objects to be used for profit, and the sight of so many young women degrading themselves for lecherous old men leaves a nasty aftertaste, as is intended.
Along the same lines is the normalisation of decadence. For example, we see cocaine snorted off escorts' naked bodies so often that we eventually don't even register it. This isn't the case of a filmmaker overexposing a trope; rather, overexposure is the trope. In one brilliantly staged scene, as Morra and his escorts are walking through Rome, a garbage truck crashes and explodes, throwing its contents into the air. However, just as the garbage falls down upon them, the film cuts to a pool party in Morra's villa, and instead of garbage falling from the sky, the escorts are doused in ecstasy tablets.
One of the most interesting facets of the film is how relatively lenient Sorrentino is - Berlusconi is not exactly sympathetic, but neither is he a villain; in a sense not dissimilar to Oliver Stone's W. (2008). Part of the reason for this is Servillo's performance; too nuanced a performer to allow any role to lapse into caricature, his Berlusconi remains always a bully, but he's also a man desperately in love with the wife who has grown to hate him.
However, for all its strengths, Loro is nowhere near the quality of This Must Be The Place (2011), the underrated Youth (2015), and the glorious The Young Pope (2016), whilst it pales in comparison to La grande bellezza (one of the top twenty films of the century, thus far). Sure, there's the visual opulence, the hedonism, the undercurrent of corruption, the casual sexuality. However, unlike, say, La grande bellezza or The Young Pope, in Loro, the visual panache often comes across as an end unto itself, rather than serving the story and/or themes.
The biggest problem, however, is that structurally, the international cut is unable to escape the bifurcated narrative design of the original edits. Rigidly divided into two halves, the first focuses on Morra and a group of politicians and hangers-on; the second on Berlusconi himself. And the transition is not smooth, with subplots abandoned without resolution, and characters fading into the background (Morra himself features in only a couple of scenes in the second half).
That said, however, this is still Sorrentino, so no matter the problems, there's always going to be much to admire. Very much a chronicler of the darkness behind Italy's sparkle, Sorrentino suggests that Berlusconi, and men like him, are driven by vanity and a desire for power as its own reward. Yes, the storyline is a little slack, and it unexpectedly finds humanity in the man, but it's also a Sorrentino film. And for that, if nothing else, it's worth a look.
Debauchery, money and power, all wrapped in the director poetry and the actor personification of... well, evil?
Yes, unfortunately I have to thank that brilliant salesman, that egotistic personality, that evil midget: something good came out of his existence at last.
The first half an hour of the movie introduces and focuses on a character, Sergio, that ends up having little relevance to the rest of the movie.
Servillo, as Berlusconi, doesn't make an appearance until then after which the movie focuses on him and his villa in Sardinia, with a couple of other key characters in his life. His acting was excellent but the story line, or lack thereof, really let things down.
Sadly I was very disappointed with this film and the potential it has. In all it was quite boring.