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by Pat Frickey

Paolo Sorentino, Italy  |  France  

LORO was the closing film at the Filmfest Hamburg. The Jury at the award ceremony beforehand didn’t linger too long passing out the prizes in anticipation that this lengthy two-hour-twenty-seven minute film was to follow. The original was shown in two parts Loro 1 and Loro 2 about two weeks apart in Italian movie theaters; almost an hour was cut for the international version.

Somehow you just can’t look away, not for the entire two hours and twenty-seven minutes. Sorrentino has filmed a brash satire about the Italian media mogul and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo) that simultaneously engages, fascinates, and repels, all to a soundtrack of more than thirty songs. Welcome back to the voyeuristic, hedonistic Italy once captured in celluloid by the master filmmaker Federico Fellini.

In the first part of the film Berlusconi doesn’t even appear. His name is never uttered; however everyone is continually talking about him. One scene shows a very obliging lady drop her bikini bottom to reveal his lecherous tattooed head.  Every scurrilous, corrupt, and promiscuous hanger-on orbits around Berlusconi, hence the title Loro meaning Them, the planets who would be nothing without the sun. In truth it is all about him.

Berlusconi is the greatest salesman Italy has ever known. He needs them almost as much as they need him. Like the boss of the mob everyone vies for his attention hoping for favors in return. Cocaine snorting, women procuring Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio) and his equally cocaine snorting, ruthless wife Tamara (Euridice Axen) spend a fortune to rent a villa in Sardinia full of bunga bunga ladies to get in his good graces. At first he seems a bit bored and distracted by the spectacle of hordes of barely clothed EDM girls competing for his affection.

Only two people in the film are able to resist him. At the party in Sardinia the innocent teenage Stella turns him away saying she doesn’t need him to make her an actress or congresswoman. And besides, his breath smells like her grandfather’s. At this point Berlusconi returns back to the orgy at the villa with the bunga bunga ladies who are so desperate to please him.

Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci), his wife of twenty-six years turns to ice even as he pulls out all the stops to woe her back. He looks old and vulnerable and especially coated in pancake make-up when Veronica leaves him and escapes to Cambodia.

 He only wants to be adored. His henchman asks him at a melancholy moment: “What did you expect: to be the richest man in the country, become prime minister and be madly loved by everyone too?” Berlusconi replies: “Yes, that’s exactly what I expected.”

For decades it worked.

Sorrentino can’t resist paying homage to Fellini’s love of symbolism. The film opens with a lovely, pastoral scene of a sheep. The sheep enters a modern villa, watches a quiz show and ads (most probably from Berlusconi’s Gruppo Mediaset company) on a giant flat screen television set. When the TV abruptly turns off the sheep collapses and falls to the floor in a heap.

The last scene is also Fellini inspired. Firefighters daringly rescue a statue of an anguished Jesus Christ from a church torn asunder by the L'Aquila Earthquake. In a somber scene the statue is lowered under the gaze of those left homeless by the catastrophe, impoverished people so far removed from the decadent Them of the film.