Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"It takes real directorial skill to deliver something so shallow across two and a half hours and keep the audience gripped." | Photo: Palace Films

When one has devoted one's life to the expression of one's ego as Silvio Berlusconi has done, going from real estate salesman to media mogul to politician with as much glamour and excess as possible, becoming the focus of a biopic would seem to be a must. Paolo Sorrentino's film is careful to distinguish itself as an imaginary portrait of one period in its subject's life, merely speculating on what he might have seen and done and felt, but as a portrait of man who is constantly restructuring his image, whose very face has become a mask of make-up as he attempts to hide the ravages of time, its fictional status seems almost bring it closer to the mark.

Initially released in two parts and now condensed into a single film with the loss of almost an hour of footage, Loro emerges as a tighter, sleeker vehicle, very much in keeping with how Berlusconi likes to present himself but unlikely to flatter him in the eyes of the viewer. It remains a film of two halves. the first part focuses on ambitious social climber Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who plans to use his stable of young, beautiful and carefully trained courtesans to get Berlusconi's attention and build an alliance he can profit from. The second focuses on Berlusconi himself as he strives to get back to the top after a series of setbacks, makes a mess of his marriage and has to deal with the immediate consequences of the devastating earthquake at L'Aquila.

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"I was only really happy when I was selling houses," Berlusconi says in one poignant moment. It's something we see him do again, over the phone, although he has no house to sell, just to remind himself that he's still got it. It's the one scene where he is indisputably in a position of power. Everything else is like a long, slow car-crash. The would-be manipulator Sergio quickly gets out of his depth, as if he hadn't truly grasped the size of the ego he was dealing with, nor of his target's appetites. Berlusconi's wife Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci) drifts through the background like an echo of love, drawing out occasional flashes of residual humanity in her husband even as it becomes clear that what they had is gone.

The film centres on a riveting, wholly committed performance from Toni Servillo. It's no easy feat to hold audience attention when playing a man who reveals so little of himself. Sorrentino's script hinges on subtext; we see Berlusconi speak about his dedication to the Italian people and Servillo gives us just enough to suggest that he believes it, but the distance between this belief and reality is clear, not least because he spends very little time with the people, taking an interest only when they are actually in crisis or when they happen to be young, female and scantily clad.

There are a lot of scantily clad female bodies in this film (though Sorrentino steers away from claims that some of them were underage). In places it feels like one is watching a Seventies car advert as every piece of furniture seems to have some nubile young thing draped over it. Together with shiny costumes, bright lights and laughter, this creates the impression that Berlusconi is living his life inside a gameshow, though the gameshows we glimpse briefly on television are far less exotic. Though Sorrentino might be accused of trading on glamour, it's difficult to see how he could tell his tale without it. For much of its running time the film is spectacularly shallow, but the shallowness is the point - and occasionally, when illusions are stretched too thin, we see how terrifying that is to its principal character.

It takes real directorial skill to deliver something so shallow across two and a half hours and keep the audience gripped. Elegant staging and beautiful cinematography by Luca Bigazzi (who worked with Sorrentino and Servillo on similar material in Il Divo) make the film visually compelling and the director adds little cinematic witticisms to amuse those viewers who might prove resistant to the allure of pert breasts. There's a thumping techno music score by Lele Marchitelli which is gloriously age-inappropriate and most of the locations look as if they have come straight from the pages of glossy holiday brochures. When we finally come face to face with the dirt and dismay of L'Aquila, the contrast is shocking. Sorrentino has successfully adjusted our perception of what's normal.

A masterful piece of work no less accomplished because it signifies nothing, Loro is likely to be the most sumptuous look into the abyss you'll ever encounter.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2019
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Loro packshot
A seedy, ambitious Puglian property developer sets his sights sets on Rome and access to Berlusconi’s inner circle.

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Writer: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello

Starring: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio

Year: 2018

Runtime: 150 minutes

Country: Italy, France


Glasgow 2019

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