Loro Programme Notes


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Spoiler warning: this article reveals key plot developments

The first time we see Silvio Berlusconi’s gurning visage in Paolo Sorrentino’s lavish, lascivious, pseudo biopic is over the opening titles. There he is, the shameless, scandal-plagued, soon-to-be four-time prime minister of Italy, tattooed on a prostitute’s rear end as the film’s other protagonist (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) rear-ends said prostitute. It’s an appropriately vulgar symbol if ever there was one of the bacchanalian world Berlusconi has facilitated: a world in which everyone has convinced themselves the only way to get ahead is by shafting one another while he smiles on.

It’s also the last time we see Silvio’s face for a while (he’s only ever referred to as Silvio in the film, a nod to both the elaborate legal disclaimer that opens Loro and the populist, anti-government, man-of-the-people persona he’s cultivated throughout his career). Played by Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo, Silvio doesn’t actually appear on screen for close to an hour. Instead, the film revels in the world he’s wrought by letting us see it through the eyes of Scamarcio’s fictionalised Sergio, a Eurotrash entrepreneur determined to become part of Silvio’s inner circle — the titular ‘them’ (Loro’s English translation). His plan — approved by his own social-climbing wife Tamara (Euridice Axen) —  is to invest all his money in a prostitution ring that he promptly instals in a neighbouring Sardinian villa in the hope that the coke-and-ecstasy fuelled revelry he’s funding will catch Silvio’s eye.

Shooting this first part of the film very much in the speedy, hedonistic, last-days-of-Rome style of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) and, especially, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Sorrentino cuts scenes like his characters cut cocaine: chopping up the narrative with rapid edits and whooshing dolly zooms — all soundtracked to The Stooges and all designed to capture the deadening rush of lives being lived dedicated to empty excess. Though the film has a definite seen-it-all-before quality in these early stages, that’s perhaps also the point: late in the film Silvio is accused of living his life as a constant performance so its to be expected that his acolytes — and Sorrentino’s depictions of them — would mimic the illusory quality of overblown movies and fashion magazines. Indeed, it’s surely no accident that Scamarcio bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Marcello Mastroianni’s unscrupulous paparazzi in La Dolce Vita (Dir. Federico Fellini, 1960), or that Sorrentino, production designer Stefania Cella and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi stage and light everything like an ostentatious photoshoot for Vogue — if Vogue was in the softcore porn business (the female flesh on display isn’t so much an example of the male gaze and the male leer).

But Sorrentino isn’t just riffing on Scorsese and Fellini. He’s riffing on his own highly regarded back-catalogue, with Loro functioning as the natural end-point of the decadent vision of Italian society he began with 2008’s Il Divo (his biopic of the last days of Berlusconi’s predecessor Giulio Andreotti) and continued with his foreign language Oscar-winner The Great Beauty (2013). All three films reflect the consequences of love for a system rife with corruption and decadence, with the new film’s comically absurd opening image of a sheep dying at the hands of a malevolent-seeming air-conditioner a comment on the complicity of the Italian people in their own ruin. 

It’s this quality the film zeroes in on as Silvio finally makes his entrance. Accordingly, the remainder of the film becomes a more nuanced examination of the man and his motives, relegating Sergio’s story to the sidelines as it tracks the implosion of Silvio’s marriage to his actress wife Veronica Lario (played by Elena Sofia Ricci) as well as his return to power. If this switch can make the film feel a little broken-backed, that might have something to do with the fact the film was released in two parts in Italy and Sorrentino has cut close to an hour of material for this still-lengthy international cut. Nevertheless, the unevenness also works to the film’s advantage by using Silvio’s anti-climactic arrival to reinforce the shaky foundations of a society built on lies and contradictions. This is something symbolised by the real-life L'Aquila earthquake that becomes a key event in the film and which, naturally, Silvio exploits for his own ends, burnishing his legend as a talented salesman able to convince his constituents they’re living their dream life while being shafted in ways they’ll never fully understand by the grinning man in the top job.


Alistair Harkness

Film Critic - The Scotsman 

 March 2019


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