Loro (2018)

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Loro is full of divisions and contradictions.

In Italian, “loro” means “they,” a fitting title for a movie concerning not just power, corruption, and inequality, but also sheer isolation. The primary subject is Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo), the notorious Italian prime minister and public figure, staying with his family on his villa in Sardegna (Sardinia). We encounter him during the two-year period in which his political party is not the majority, thus leaving him with little to do but party (the other kind), mess around, and make deals for the next parliamentary session.

He is portrayed like a king in a castle, someone on a pedestal who permits limited access to outsiders. The film’s excellent first act is from the perspective of Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), an up-and-coming entrepreneur of sorts who procures drugs and women for the rich and powerful of Italy, in exchange for contracts and access to those even further up the ladder from himself. For a movie that begins without great female representation (granted, told from the viewpoint of pretty rotten men), an exciting relationship begins when he encounters Kira (Kasia Smutniak), a procurer with even higher status, but who makes it perfectly clear that she is above his league. She is nonetheless open to helping Sergio get to “him:” Berlusconi. It’s a fun change of pace, in a world mostly dominated by men, to watch Kira and Sergio’s partnership unfold in which she has the upper hand. When they do get to Berlusconi, the perspective shifts to his own, and we are elevated beyond the scrappy upstarts and straight into the world of the “they,” eschewing the lower-tiered narrator Sergio we had kicked off the journey with.

From this new viewpoint, we get to witness the other great relationship of this film: that of Berlusconi and his wife Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci). Like Sergio, her presence and absence are severely felt, as the beautiful yet weathered foil to the models and actresses Berlusconi surrounds himself with. Unlike those swirling around him like a gravitational pull, she is caught in the eye of the hurricane, as the only one with a real history with Berlusconi, carrying over two decades of pain, pleasure, and memories. She’s borne witness to his game from start to finish, and is spared the inauthentic introductions and first impressions by which he tries to charm the new women on his horizon.

In one of the film’s best scenes, they finally confront each other without pretense: Berlusconi without his signature grin, Veronica at last addressing him head-on without evasion. They rip each other apart, demanding an explanation for the other’s behavior, and question how their marriage once built on love turned parasitic. In a movie often so stylized and even fantastical, the raw emotions on display here especially sting.

Beyond the relationships and portrayals of people in Loro, there are moments of clashing settings and eras, bridging the old and the new through magical realism and even miracles. In one early scene, a troupe of supermodels is walking through Rome, the Eternal City, passing by the Colosseum and Roman Forum en route to their next party. On the road, a large rat scurries about, as a massive garbage truck swerves to avoid hitting it, jumping the curb, soaring through the air, and crash-landing down into the Forum. One can read this as Italy literally trashing their history, to avoid hurting a particular rat (or who the rat represents), destroying the past to preserve the present vermin.

The powerful climax set after the tragic L’Aquila earthquake bears a similar thought-provoking weight. As firemen and emergency operatives work to clear out the ruins of a damaged building, they unearth a pristine, undamaged statue of Christ: the divine surviving the spoils of natural disaster. Perhaps this image, in the midst of something horrible, is meant to evoke a sense of hope and belief in the miraculous, despite how dire circumstances may be.

Like Sorrentino’s earlier films The Great Beauty and YouthLoro is an ambitious undertaking, weaving together politics, society, even philosophy all set in the stage of a particular showman Prime Minister. If anything, it wasn’t quite as biting or critical as I was expecting, but its broader themes extend its accessibility not just for international audiences, but even the movie’s shelf life. Long after Berlusconi is out of office, Loro will continue to be viewed, studied, and enjoyed, as long as loro (they) are still in power.

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