Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo (2008) is a biopic of Giulio Andreotti, the infamous former Italian Prime Minister and all-round corruption magnet. The sordid, immoral work of this character’s existence is animated by Toni Servillo, a veteran Italian actor, who is adept at highlighting the strange oddities and quirks of the subjects he seeks to embody. In short, he’s a fine physical comedian. As Andreotti, he walks around with hunched shoulders in Nosferatu poise, his hands clasped in front of him in the shape of a small pistol, his face fixed in a generalised look of dissatisfaction.
Servillo is the best thing about that film, an over-long, ostentatious, and woefully stupid borrowing of the perspective it seeks to send-up. And what do you know, this director-actor pairing have done the same thing again. Loro (which means ‘them’) is a biopic of sorts, a film that takes another representative figure of Italy’s political and moral degradation as its anti-hero: Silvio Berlusconi.
For a time, this is diverting. Servillo’s impersonation is entertaining: the confident, pot-bellied, wide-grinned, bronzer-gorged appearance barely relents for the film’s runtime. But he’s absent for the first half-hour, and I think Sorrentino may be pulling off a superb trick here: the first part of the film is so awful you’re actually quite glad to see Berlusconi when he turns up, and those aren’t words I ever thought would need to be written. This is because the opening follows an awful Berlusconi-wannabe, Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), in his slimy attempts to court influence and power, and win an audience with “him him.”
Loro is, ineluctably, an utter mess. Ineluctably because in Italy and elsewhere, it was released in two parts; the original bifurcated film runs to around 225-minutes, whereas the version that will appear in UK cinemas is a 145-minute Director’s Cut. This accounts for some (though only some) of the film’s poorness. It’s slovenly and meandering, and features many too many scenes of Berlusconi plotting, leering at women, and attempting to prove his salesman’s prowess.
The critic Michael Koresky refers to Sorrentino’s “capital S-style”, and there’s no way of improving upon this withering formulation. In the first section, with the long takes and the slow-motion and the music video aesthetic (complete with a gaze so repellently chauvinist it becomes a challenge to endure), the film advertises and calls attention to its lack of substance; but it is mounting a critique of this life, slowly, and by the end, unconvincingly.
In its final moments, Loro changes its mode of attack from mimicry to condemnation, and in doing so, becomes ridiculous in a new way. A good handler of comic performances Sorrentino certainly is; a master of tone? No, he’s certainly not. But I can’t shake the terminating shot of the film from my mind, even though I find it wholly, absolutely dumb.
The ending focuses on the aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake, and the extraction of a marvellous marble statue of Jesus from out of the rubble of a partially collapsed church. As it’s gradually located and lowered down, a crowd of onlookers clasp hands and ruminate on the sight, as the score’s strings swell in accompaniment. The craning camera investigates every crevice and contour of the figure, in what amounts to a genuine pietà moment. Obviated of its meaning, the shot is wonderful; but what it communicates is hilariously obvious and easy: Berlusconi is a Bad Man. Well, and there’s really no other way to phrase this: duh.
Image: Quirinale.it via Wikimedia Commons