Still from Paolo Sorrentino's film Loro

Loro tells the story of notorious Italian politician and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and the people who surrounded him during the years 2006-2009, the latest by filmaker Paolo Sorrentino. This was a period when Berlusconi lost power, his long list of scandals were exposed, and despite all this he managed to regain power and become Prime Minister of Italy for the third time. It’s quite a tale, and not for the faint-hearted. In Loro, a film rich in visual detail and enigmatic moments, it is told in a way only Paolo Sorrentino could.

Going deeper, with spoilers….

Sorrentino’s filmmaking style is very distinctive, and unique, while clearly owning a debt of gratitude to many that came before him, not lest Fellini. This film in particular is punctuated with absurd, surrealist and hyper-real moments, which seems completely at home within this fairly crazy narrative – the craziest parts of which are completely true and well documented. Sorrentino, like Fellini and others before him, uses visual metaphors liberally. You can be sure nothing in the fame is placed idly. It’s hard to keep up sometimes, with so much going on, but it’s worth just going along for the ride.

One particularly striking moment comes at the very end. After the devastating earthquake that destroyed the town of L’Aquilla in the Abruzzo region, rescue workers are carefully winching out a statue of Jesus, which is carefully lowered to the ground. The camera then spans the long line of rescue workers, tired and dirty, all around them in ruins. This scene could mean all kinds of things, but the reading I like the most is one suggested by a friend of mine. With the sculpture saved, the camera pans the figure of the Jesus, which lies sensually draped, a beatific smile on his face. He has been saved  while all else lies destroyed, and the rescue workers rest. They have saved  their idol. A symbol whose value lies in its meaning. And so Berlusconi is a symbol, for some Italians. That is how he managed to keep coming back. How he was resurrected again and again, while Itay collapses, while the ordinary Italians struggle to save what is left. This film neither condemns nor excuses this, but tries to explain the figure that is Berlusconi and how he was able to get away with what he did.

It is this lack of judgement which I found one of the most interesting things about this film. I was expecting a film which condemned Berlusconi, and while it was hardly flattering, it really presented the man as someone charming and ruthless. Someone who is a salesman, as he demonstrates in the scene with Berlusconi on the phone trying to sell property to some random person who clearly doesn’t want it, just to see if he can. More than pass judgement on the man himself, this film really seeks to explain him, explain his success by depicting this turn-around moment in his career. Show how he managed to do what he has done, and although the film doesn’t explicitly draw comparisons to other more current world leaders, the similarities are fairly hard to miss.

One of the characteristics of Berlusconi’s scandalous behaviour while in power, and also his television networks which are enormously influential, is the objectification of women. Women are objectified, uncomfortably so, throughout this film, and this is part of the story. Berlusconi would like to keep these women as objects, they are easier to manage that way, but instead through the film they keep turning into three-dimensional people. And so his wife finally leaves him, telling him a few home truths on her way out, his long-time lover and procurer of girls Kira is left a fairly sad, broken person, and a young woman at a party who refuses Berlusconi’s advances and reminds him, and us, how pathetic his behaviour. She tells him his breath smells like her grandfather’s. The reason, he later tells his wife, is he uses the same brand of denture cleaning solution.

An interesting film, and worth seeing on the big screen. Loro is playing in select cinemas right now.