Loro (2018)

Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro is an excoriating comment on the tacky corruption that surrounded the notorious former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi.

Heart of Darkness

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Loro is set when disgraced (though longest serving) prime minister of Italy, media tycoon Silvo Berlusconi is aged 70, out of office but yearning to return – so long as he can have all the power and none of the responsibilities of running a country. He’s tawdry, tacky, totally amoral, but also fabulously rich, manipulative and charismatic. Toni Servillo is perfection as Berlusconi right down to the transplanted hairline – a social chameleon, pathetically in denial that he’s ageing and still wanting to party like a 20-year-old.

Berlusconi himself only makes an appearance after a lengthy build-up from an intertwining story. Social-climbing pimp and small-businessman Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio) is scrambling to win the great man’s favour and the influence that comes with it, hoping to lure him in through his love of parties and pretty girls. Sergio gambles on filling a villa next to Berlusconi’s in Sardinia with plenty of attention-grabbing, glamorous ‘escorts’ and he waits: Berlusconi meanwhile is holidaying with his estranged wife (Elena Sofia Ricci), working hard to win her back, but bored in seclusion and desperately needing to be the centre of attention again.

The two stories explode in a brightly coloured, sometimes Fellini-esque, extravaganza of political and moral corruption. Women are lusted after indiscriminately, used by exploitative men plotting for selfish ends as mere sexual commodities or as the crowds of willing females needed to fuel the notorious bunga bunga parties for Berlusconi’s delight.

Loro feels like a series of episodes studded with striking visual images that take the story into another dimension: the close-up of a sheep that wanders indoors and expires, a subliminal rat, a dustcart that rains filth on party-goers that turns into a shower of colourful MDMA tablets. There’s a wonderful sequence where Berlusconi seeks to boost his ego by proving that he’s still got what it takes as a salesman by selling a non-existent house to a random woman. His technique is to make people believe in a dream, he’s a genius at it and it’s absolutely chilling.

Though wonderful to look at, initially the film is confusing as it cuts abruptly between Sergio and Silvio without explanation as to who or why. In fact, Loro – it translates as ‘Them” or a play on words l’oro (gold) – was originally two films that Paolo Sorrentino (Youth, The Great Beauty,This Must Be The Place) has edited into one rather long one: unfortunately this shows.

Berlusconi is, as of now, still in political limbo. As leader of his country he was accused of vast conflicts of interest because of his ownership of a media empire with which he restricted freedom of information, finally being blackmailed as leader because of his turbulent private life. Sorrentino’s excoriating film has careful legal disclaimers as to whether it is a biopic, but….

And it’s hard to ignore the parallels between Berlusconi then and another controversial, perhaps less talented and charismatic, salesman/businessman now, with no political experience, who also is felt to be misusing his highest political office across the Atlantic. Both have been criticised for their performance as a politician and for the ethics of their government practices in relation to their business holdings, with accusations concerning their pursuit of personal interests while in office. Plus ça change. Alternatively – più cambia.

Loro is released on 19 April 2019 in the UK.

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