Originally released in Italy as two movies, “Loro” from writer/director Paolo Sorrentino, made its international debut Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival as one. It’s long, clocking in at well over two hours, but it’s a doozy.
Sorrentino has become the great Italian director over the past decade, with two brilliant films, “Il Divo” and “The Great Beauty.” Like those, “Loro” has lots and lots of magnificently staged scenes, set to throbbing techno music and populated with gorgeous young women dancing suggestively — and sometimes topless. There’s so much toplessness in “Loro,” in fact, that some will be offended. But it serves a purpose, since this is a satire of the life of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who in some ways bears a resemblance to President Donald Trump.
As portrayed by Toni Servillo in “Loro,” Berlusconi is fundamentally insecure, but he has obtained great wealth because he knows how to sell his various schemes, whether it’s general investments or real estate projects. He also operates a media empire, in which he plays a hands-on role in picking models to be game show co-hosts. And because he loves wielding power, he attracts the attention of numerous schemers eager to be in his corrupt orbit.
One such schemer in “Loro” is Sergio Mora (Riccardo Scamarcio), who rents an estate across the bay from Berlusconi’s estate and hosts a never-ending outdoor party with dozens and dozens of models dancing and posing and trying to gain Berlusconi’s attention. The aim is to have the young women seduce the aging Berlusconi, with Mora hoping that he’ll be repaid by an appointment to the European Parliament.
The parties are amazing. They’re also amazingly sexist. But that’s part of the point. You can’t do a biographical film about Berlusconi without having sexism and objectification playing key roles. That’s a big reason why Berlusconi’s TV stations are so successful.
Mora has a good shot at getting to Berlusconi, in part, because he has befriended the high-class call girl Kira (Kasia Smutniak), who helps him round up models and promises access to Berlusconi, since she and Berlusconi have an intimate relationship.
And if you haven’t ever seen Smutniak in a movie, prepare to be amazed.
But the top female role goes to Berlusconi’s long-suffering wife, Veronica Lario (Elena Sofia Ricci). When she and Berlusconi go toe-to-toe in a truth-telling battle royale, there’s a bit of Katharine Hepburn bravura on display.
Servillo, of course, can hold his own in any dramatic face-off, and he has become one of Italy’s top stars because of his chameleon-like performances in Sorrentino’s movies.
Sorrentino is a flamboyant auteur, and his films are not for everyone. Still, his scenes are impeccably choreographed, with such style and pizazz that it makes many American movies look downright boring.
It’ll be interesting to see how “Loro” fares on the arthouse circuit in the United States. It touches on timely political themes, but it’s over the top in some ways. Then again, how would you make a movie about Berlusconi without pushing boundaries?