Loro: Unstable, Genius, by David Bax
This review originally ran as a part of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Back in 2008, Paolo Sorrentino and actor Toni Servillo made a film called Il Divo, in which Servillo portrayed former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti. That movie was more sizzle than steak but it was the first major calling card of the longtime director/star duo. Now, a decade later, the two have re-teamed to bring us a movie that is absolutely not–according to the tongue-in-cheek opening disclaimer–based on any real life figures. Any connections you may make between Servillo’s portrayal of a once and future prime minister and television network owner named Silvio and Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi are all on you, apparently. Today, we might just as well draw parallels to another self-interested, scandal-ridden world leader even though, when Silvio points out that truth doesn’t matter, “the only thing that matters is that you believed me,” he comes across as more self-aware than Donald Trump ever has.
Loro, as it is being released outside of Italy, is cut down by almost an hour from a two-part series into a single two and a half hour epic. This version tells two stories. In one, an ambitious social and financial climber named Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio) attempts to work his way into Silvio’s good graces by becoming a “talent scout” representing scores of gorgeous young women who are always ready to attend a party. In the other, Silvio plots his return to office. If Loro were based on the life of Berlusconi, this would place events in roughly 2007 but, again, it’s not. One imagines that the full, two-part version is more evenly balanced but this cut wisely favors the better Silvio story. While both narratives include the annoying trope of one character being summed up by another for the audience’s benefits, the insights into Silvio are deeper and clearly more thought out.
But let’s start, as Loro does, with Sergio. His sections operate more in the mile-a-minute, surreal and dreamy mode that we’ve come to expect from Sorrentino (which makes sense given the constant drug use of Sergio and his cohorts). Yet these bells and whistles are even more superficial than they were in, for example, Sorrentino’s last feature, 2015’s underrated Youth. There are occasional inspired touches, like when the characters, under the influence of MDMA, gaze toward Silvio’s seaside estate and brass rings appear in their pupils. Mostly, though, Sergio’s tale is a slightly askew version of the Scarface/Wolf of Wall Street story in which an amoral striver rises high before his fall.
Once things switch to Silvio (and more or less remain there), Sorrentino calms down and focuses. Who needs flashy adornments, after all, when Servillo’s grin remains a special effect all on its own? The bulk of Loro is so restrained in comparison to the rest of Sorrentino’s work, you could even accuse the director of maturing. Where Il Divo‘s abstraction of Andreotti’s political career bordered on the impressionistic, Loro engages with its subject’s psyche and motivations directly. The climactic argument between Silvio and his wife (Elena Sofia Ricci) is a Neil Simon-esque survey of the couple’s entire romantic and political history.
Of course, whatever they are arguing about, we already know the outcome (or we would if they were based on Berlusconi and his wife, which they’re not). She divorces him and he resumes leadership of the country. Loro has a motif of countdowns, from the timer on a microwave to the ticking clock of Silvio constantly promising to fire up the enormous, working volcano replica on his estate. In each case, and in Loro as a whole, we know what happens when the counter reaches zero but we can’t wait to see it anyway.