Friday, April 19, 2019

Il Cavaliere Oscuro si alza - Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro

Todd Phillips’ Joker arrives in cinemas later this year...but if you can’t wait that long for a profile of a grotesque entitled white man-child with a backcombed slick of artificially coloured hair and an unnerving, humourless rictus smile that masks the sting of indignities both real and imagined, then you’re in luck!

Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro opens with a Giorgio Manganelli quote that sets the stage for what's to come: "All Documented. All Arbitrary." Take it any way you want it. This may or not be a heavily fictionalised look at real people and events - not dissimilar to James Ellroy’s real / fictional interrogations of post-war Los Angeles through the eyes of history’s supporting players.

Loro” is Italian for “them”, and they are the initial preoccupation of Sorrentino’s film about Silvio Berlusconi in the years between 2006 and 2009. We spend half an hour rolling around in the gilded gutter with the social climbers and venal wannabes on the periphery of Berlusconi’s world, particularly the opportunistic Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio). I could have easily done without this first half-hour, although it is a useful illustrative case-study of the thwarted, deluded ambitions of those in Berlusconi’s orbit.

The film finally sparks to life when Toni Servillo appears as the man himself - the man talked of in awed tones right up to that point, and never by name - just “lui” (him). It is an unalloyed joy to watch one of my favourite living actors as Berlusconi. He nails it. The flat reptilian eyes. The insatiable hunger for attention and adulation. Restless, ambitious, egotistical and vain, it's a glorious performance and Servillo manages to imbue Berlusconi with (arguably undeserving) pathos.

The title also indulges in a bit of wordplay. L’oro. The gold. And there’s an escalating orgy of excess and hedonism on display. Loro opens like Sorrentino’s riff on Scorsese’s Goodfellas, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is actually Sorrentino’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and it’s occasionally tiresome when the film revels in the leering, vulgar decadence of sex and drugs and bunga bunga.

It’s a frustratingly uneven piece of work. Some of Loro is up there with the very best of Sorrentino. An uncomfortable scene where the seventy year-old Berlusconi fails to seduce twenty year-old Stella (Alice Pagani), and confrontations between Berlusconi and his wife Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci) are high points. Veronica cuts straight to the essence of Berlusconi when she calls him "a child who's afraid of dying" and refers to his life as "one long uninterrupted performance".

Loro also falls down when it resorts to heavy-handed symbolism: a dying sheep; a muted gameshow on an unwatched television screen; a garbage truck flying off a bridge to avoid a rat before exploding with a fountain of trash; the political pomp of a swearing-in ceremony cross-cut with an earthquake. This isn’t a film interested in subtlety, and a little more nuance and ambiguity would have gone a long way.

Some of my issues with Loro could be attributed to this “international edit” that is being released - a combination of two films that were released separately as Loro 1 and Loro 2 in Italy. The international edit is an hour shorter than the original diptych combined and that can sometimes be felt quite keenly. Character subplots are dropped without resolution, and that skewed pacing has a way of making it feel overlong and indulgent, even in this truncated version. Loro is strongest when the focus is directly on Servillo's magnetic, compelling performance as Berlusconi.

Loro is in cinemas and on demand in the UK from Friday 19th April 2019