Month: May, 2019

Loro

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Loro is Paolo Sorrentino’s second film that explores the political landscape of his home country Italy, after the Cannes winning Il Divo. Il Divo starred the charismatic Tony Sevillo as corrupt prime minister Giulio Andreotti and displayed the typical stylish hallmarks which would later garner Sorrentino an Oscar for The Great Beauty. Punchy music, arresting visuals and an ambitious scope characterize both these films. But, although Loro is closer in subject matter to Il Divo, similar thematic links can be drawn to The Great Beauty.

The first thing that strikes me about the film is that we are not introduced to the main protagonist, Silvio Berlusconi (Tony Sevillo), until 30 minutes in. This not only builds his mystique, but seen through the eyes of characters who refer to Berlusconi as Lui, Lui (him, him) we get an insight into his overbearing influence. Berlusconi seems to be solely remarkable for his material achievements, rather than his personality. Indeed he is later portrayed as a small man with a weakness for young women, juvenile practical jokes and breast implants. However, to self-described ‘talent scout’ Sergio Morra (pictured above) who is an ambitious finder of beautiful women used in negotiations to secure lucrative government contracts – Berlusconi is the elusive prize. Indeed Sergio goes to great expense to rent a villa in Sardinia close to Berlusconi’s and hand-picks women to attend a staged ‘party’ to catch his eye. We get an idea of just how important Berlusconi is when the whole congregation silently stare in the direction of his villa, waiting for hours just to be noticed.

These initial party scenes are reminiscent of The Great Beauty. Sorrentino excels at stylistically capturing 21st Century hedonism – with thumping beats, dancing, drugs and excess – ‘a spectacle of bad taste’ as described by Henry K Miller in Sight & Sound. There is a particularly arresting visual moment when, to signal the party starting, hundreds of brightly coloured MDMA pills are thrown into the air. Sorrentino lingers on this slow-motion shot whilst a narrator describes the neurological affects of the drug. Nudity, partying and indeed ‘bad taste’ continue throughout the film.

The same contrast exists here as it does in The Great Beauty. Hard-won human achievements taking time and real effort, vs the transience of excess and hedonism. This is never more poignant than in one of the final scenes at Berlusconi’s villa where Sergio is finally asked to stage a party. Of course, he invites the full congregation of beautiful women. A 20 year old aspiring actress, Stella, who seems uncomfortable catches Berlusconi’s eye. She is the only one who doesn’t laugh at his jokes. She seems to surprise him with the line ‘I can’t do this, it’s all so pathetic’. This dignified and unattainable woman is the one Berlusconi wants, and can never get. She does not fit into the category of superficial beauty. Suddenly the empty reality hits home.

Again, this contrast is evident when Berlusconi’s wife leaves him. Throughout the film she pleads to visit the stunning temples of Cambodia, criticizes his TV channels for bloated advertisements and no intelligent programming, and accuses him of having limited cultural horizons in comparison to the Fiat magnate owner of Juventus Gianni Agnelli, who commissioned a portrait from Francis Bacon. In some ways this failure to appreciate cultural beauty ended up being Berlusconi’s downfall. I felt compassion for Sergio by the end of the film. Never managing to kindle friendship with Berlusconi and enter his circle, he melancholically proclaims that ‘they [loro in Italian] are smarter than us’. Not sure if this is the case, Sergio.

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Eighth Grade

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In Director Bo Burnham I feel like I’m witnessing another Jordan Peele rise. Again, this is a filmmaker with a background in sketch comedy who, with his debut feature Eighth Grade, seems to have already made a significant contribution to film culture. Indeed, Barak Obama has named Eighth Grade one of his favourites of 2018, and I can see why.

Eighth Grade avoids many of the usual coming-of-age tropes. The film is imbued with a remarkable authenticity. This isn’t comedy on the scale of Mean Girls with surreal cut scenes and popularity wars, instead the focus is on Kayla Day’s last week in middle school and the battle to discover herself. Burnham takes joy from small triumphs against a tidal wave of “cool” conformity. He has created an excellent character in Kayla Day who isn’t insecure enough to abandon her lamer interests. Whilst watching I certainly started to remember what life was like at that age and the process of building my personality. I was also somewhat surprised to find myself relating to a 13 year old girl.

Part of this authenticity comes from Elsie Fisher’s mesmerising turn as Kayla. There was a groundedness to her performance that was refreshing to see from an actress her age. She was adept at realistically conveying the awkward interactions which provided dry humour throughout. Many of these interactions revolved around her dad, Mark Day played by Josh Hamilton. This was a character I had sympathy for, a dad that dealt with his daughter with goofy good humour despite her efforts to push him away. He provided something of a moral anchor too, and was instrumental in Kayla’s closing revelations.

Burnham initially gained a following through comedy videos on Youtube. I’m not surprised then, that the film also provides insightful commentary into social media lives. After she was voted ‘quietest in school’ Kayla’s Youtube video tips on topics such as “being yourself” or “putting yourself out there”  are a reminder of the contrast between appearance and reality. Social media certainly highlights the anxiety of school but it also allows Kayla to discover who she is. It almost feels like the audience isn’t important in these videos, what’s more important is her freedom of self-expression. This is no more evident than in the final scene when she leaves a heartfelt video message to her eighteen year old self, ‘if you don’t have a boyfriend, that’s ok’, ‘if high school was bad for you, that’s ok too’.

Just like in Us, the score here is particularly good, with loud, brash techno music amplifying the horrendous nerves Kayla feels when she sets eyes on her crush in school. There are also some hugely engaging montages of Instagram surfing, working well with tracks like Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”. I can’t wait to see what Burnham does next. This could be one of the first of the Youtube generation to master cinema.