October 17, 2019

‘Loro’ Review: A Corrupt Leader, and the People Who Love Him

‘Loro’ Review: A Corrupt Leader, and the People Who Love Him

After a convoluted explanation of the almost-trueness of this story, a bit of sleazy transactional sex on a boat and a possibly metaphorical scene of a sheep freezing to death in an air-conditioned villa, we are deposited at the outer edge of the Berlusconi circle, pulled ever closer to the man himself. Our guide, for a while, is Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), a handsome young climber with enough sensitivity in his features to make us trust him at least a little.

Scamarcio gives off a whiff of Tony Curtis in “Sweet Smell of Success,” and also of Marcello Mastroianni in “La Dolce Vita,” though his milieu makes theirs look positively antiseptic. In Sorrentino’s Italy (and Berlusconi’s), parties never stop, promises are rarely kept and a woman’s place is wherever a man can get a good look at her breasts. Sergio, who has a wife named Tamara (Euridice Axen), finds his way into the confidence of Kira (Kasia Smutniak), a favorite of Berlusconi’s who promises access to “him him.” Sergio’s plan is to join the ranks of procurers who bring young women to Berlusconi’s attention. In exchange, he hopes for a low-level political appointment that will bring in some money.

Sergio is quickly upstaged by the prime minister himself, who is in a temporary Napoleonic exile in Sardinia. Berlusconi, dressed in white linen, wanders the grounds of his estate, chatting with his wife, Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci), one of his grandsons, a loyal lieutenant and a court musician. (Though the chronology is not precise, it seems to be 2008 or 2009.) He pontificates, he sings sentimental songs, he sweet-talks and browbeats political rivals and allies, and generally behaves like a guy having the time of his life. Occasionally a note of wistfulness or melancholy slips into his monologues, but real regret and deep introspection are alien to his character. He’s a salesman, a showman, a ladies man, a man of the people.

What he isn’t, in this version, is a monster or a clown. Sorrentino, who has plumbed the decadence of the Roman elite in “The Great Beauty” and splashed around in Vatican intrigue in “The Young Pope,” shows more interest in the theater of politics than in its substance. In some ways Berlusconi, a media mogul and cruise-ship crooner in earlier phases of his career, a creature of appetite and excess, is Sorrentino’s ideal subject. But the overlap in their sensibilities turns “Loro” into a blurry, distracted, sentimental portrait. Berlusconi’s womanizing — a source of scandal and titillation that is overdue for a serious reckoning — serves as an alibi for Sorrentino’s voyeurism.

And in any case, the film regards Berlusconi’s sexual appetite with tender indulgence. Which is also how it treats his scheming and double-dealing. A little more than 10 years ago, in the midst of the real Berlusconi’s reign, Sorrentino and Servillo made “Il Divo,” a scabrous portrait of Giulio Andreotti, one of the masterminds of the now-defunct Christian Democratic Party through much of its long ascendancy. That film was an acid-etched, unnerving portrait of ideological rot disguised as moral righteousness. This one, by contrast, is warm and soft, which makes it either startling in its sincerity or horrifying in its cynicism. Either way, it might be a portent of things to come, as filmmakers try to frame the legacies of leaders who succeed through shamelessness.


Not rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 31 minutes.

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