When it comes to a tale about the corruption of power, do Italians really do it better? Before Donald Trump, we had Silvio Berlusconi—both veritable business-tycoon-come-politicians, their stories indeed have a fair share of scandal. At the very least, they’ve shared the spotlight in the tabloids and business papers, albeit at different times. “Bunga Bunga” anyone?

Naturally, sex, drugs and the occasional Italian love ballad takes corner stage in Director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, Loro. Known for his award-winning film The Great Beauty and television drama The Young Pope, Sorrentino reunites with long-time collaborator Toni Servillo, who plays the infamous Silvio Berlusconi.

The film begins in Sardinia with a lost sheep, an underground deal between two thugs and a talented gymnast auditioning for a television show. None of these events seem to have any correlation, and it is not immediately apparent, but leading the story from the perspective of other characters surrounding Berlusconi is ingenious. While building our understanding of Sorrentino’s version of mid-2000’s Italy behind closed doors, it leaves the audience curious for more. Consequently, we’re forced to be open to any and all possibilities.

Small town gangsters Sergio and Tamara (played by Riccardo Scamarcio and Euridice Axen), well versed in the bribery and corruption of local politicians, set themselves a new target—the recently fallen Berlusconi. Unbeknown to this plot, Berlusconischemes his next political move while trying to rekindle his marriage. Amidst all this, there are parties, secret meetings, and a devastating earthquake. Throughout the film we see numerous characters reveal their hopes, their desires, and at moments, the hard, bitter truth.

Sorrentino uses a considerable amount of creative license to paint a picture of a slick, fantastical world that is somehow both surreal and yet feels like a slice of life at times. Breaking the fourth wall, rife with obscenities and embellished with musical sequences, his signature style comes through in his imaginative direction and sharp, witty dialogue. Sorrentino seems to relish stories of remarkable men in positions of power, with Servillo portraying the politician as a brilliantly imposing individual. This bold characterisation is vaguely reminiscent of the chain-smoking bad-boy Pope Pius XIII from The Young Pope.

The cult of Berlusconi’s personality is simultaneously fed and derived throughout the film. Gangsters aim to be in the same room as him, while escorts hope to entice him, politicians aim to overthrow—or curry favour with him. Without even seeing him, the audience is lead to form their own grandiose opinion of Berlusconi.

In stark contrast, the women featured in the film are predominantly objects of sex and lust rather than power. Not surprisingly, the only two female figures that manage to exert power over Berlusconi are none other than his wife Veronica (played by Elena Sofia Ricci) and Stella, a young art student (played by Alice Pagani), who reminds him of his wife.

Something else that stood out to me was how Berlusconi is initially portrayed as quite a normal person, if not a bit laddish. He appears to be a loving grandfather, an old-school romantic who loves to sing, and a man with many friends and admirers. But we see his true colours slowly seep out as the film progresses. Servillo’s depiction of Berlusconi is equal parts elegant and unsettling. An eerie mood surrounds him as the film reaches its climax, for he is a pawn, but also a player in a reward-driven game of power and control. It later becomes quite clear how Machiavellian he is in respect to politics, his smooth talking, and effortless salesmanship.

A contender for this year’s Oscars, Loro is surprisingly funny and expectedly sexy, and Servillo’s performance is truly unforgettable—as are the hedonistic party scenes. The film is less politically-charged-thriller and more a story of a world removed from our own, but relatable in its own way. Loro is vivid and voyeuristic in its depiction of Italy’s renowned playboy politician—but best warn Nonna of the excessive nudity before you schedule a viewing.

 

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival continues in Perth until October 21, showing at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX.