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'Loro': Sorrentino's Portrait Of Berlusconi As A Once-Powerful Lion In Winter

<em></em>Toni Servillo stars in Paolo Sorrentino's film, which was recut from a two-part Italian TV series about the decadent life of Silvio Berlusconi.
Toni Servillo stars in Paolo Sorrentino's film, which was recut from a two-part Italian TV series about the decadent life of Silvio Berlusconi.

Like an unkillable horror-flick villain, Silvio Berlusconi repeatedly clawed himself back from the grave, becoming prime minister in four Italian governments. Lorodepicts the media-mogul-turned-politician in the period of his 2008 comeback, but it doesn't primarily tell the story of that resurrection. Director Paolo Sorrentino's stylish but overloaded satire is less sober narrative than drunken tone poem — a buzzing, throbbing attempt to simulate the experience of living in Berlusconi-world.

Indeed, the movie's first chapter focuses not on the famed "him" (luiin Italian) but on the admiring them (loro). Introduced first is Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), a fixer and pimp whose sex workers don't just turn tricks for cash. They also use their charms, and abundant quantities of cocaine, to persuade small-time politicians to make lucrative illegal deals.

Morra seems happy in his work, except for the "small-time" part. He tells long-suffering wife Tamara (Euridice Axen) that they're leaving the provinces. His route to Rome runs through Sardinia, where Berlusconi (Toni Servillo) maintains a getaway villa. Morra rents the place next door, and fills it with things expected to get the former PM's attention: drugs, booze, soccer stars, and lots of young women who wear little, if any, clothing. Morra's advisor is a Berlusconi mistress (Kasia Smutniak) who's chic yet forlorn. She realizes her moment has almost passed.

Eventually, Berlusconi does notice the nearby non-stop party. He's intrigued, but busy flipping the votes of the six senators needed to return him to power. Less exuberantly, he mourns the end of his marriage to the even longer-suffering Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci), whom he seems to love truly, despite his many infidelities.

These developments emerge spasmodically in a movie that has been carved out of a pair of other ones: Lorowas released in Italy in two parts, each running about 100 minutes. The North American version has been cut by nearly an hour and then stitched back together. The result is messy and meandering, although perhaps not any more so than the original.

Servillo is best known in the West for promenading urbanely through 2013's The Great Beauty, arguably Sorrentino's best film. But he's played several other roles for the director, including another real-life Italian power broker in 2008's Il Divo, something of a dry run for Loro.

While both films are cynically playful and stylistically buoyant, Lorois set in a more recent, more garish era. Berlusconi runs TV networks that make stars out of eager young beauties, so every encounter is a potential audition and every piece of furniture a possible casting couch. The movie's figure of mystery is a pretty college student (Alice Pagani) who doesn't want to go all the way — in any sense of that phrase.

Set more than once to a thumping Stooges song, the movie's bacchanalian sequences might be termed Felliniesque. (So could the final shot, an apparent homage to the opening of La Dolce Vita). But the shots of writhing lovelies also recall the much dopier Spring Breakers, and occur so often that they become tiresome. Perhaps the ratio of partying to politicking is something that was thrown off when editing two chapters into one.

One scene that remained after the cut is inessential to the story but crucial to the characterization. Berlusconi — who started, of course, in real estate — calls a woman at random and tries to sell her a nonexistent apartment. As the 70-something mogul warms to the con, Servillo makes him both abhorrent and sympathetic. He adores hustling the easily duped, but recognizes that he has time for just a few more pitches.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Jenkins reviews movies for NPR.org, as well as for , which covers the Washington, D.C., film scene with an emphasis on art, foreign and repertory cinema.