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.