Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 8:34 pm 
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Berlusconi squared

So here it is, Paolo Sorrentino's latest masterpiece, a feat of glorious filmmaking, and it's a grotesque portrait of Silvio Berlusconi, the ultra-rich, charming, crooked several-time PM of Italy, who's currently jockeying for reentry into the corridors of power in Italy, surrounded by scandals and crimes and eighty years old. And this is another incredible performance in the lead role by Sorrentino's long-time collaborator, Toni Servillo, and one of his most amazing. It may rival his work in the earlier Il Divo and The Great Beauty/La grande bellezza. But this is a "visceral, grotesque and graphically vulgar portrait" of Berlusconi (Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter).

I love the texture scene-to-scene of this extravaganza, which is every bit up to the standard of the director's previous efforts. But it's also a a bit of a mess, or arguably, giving its ambition, a big mess. To begin with, there were two parts, Loro I and Loro Ii, and this is a blend and a reduction, resulting, in the view of some, in an augmentation of the worst aspects of each of the two parts (Deborah Young thinks so). There is also the moral issue, or the point of view. Like that tasteless critique of tasteless wealth, Crazy Rich Asians, this is a movie in love with the very things it set out to criticize. Secondo Deborah, this truncated version clarifies each of the two main narrative threads, Berlusconi's breakup with his wife of 26 years, Veronica Lario (played by Elena Sofia Ricci), vs. the effort of a businessman, Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio, excellent) to line up "il presidente" with a bunch of bikini-clad, coke snorting champagne quaffing young ladies - a crass modern seraglio, in effect a specialized custom prostitution ring. But at the same time the shorter version only underlines that these two don't have much to do with each other and the movie as a whole isn't going anywhere.

I'd also like to comment on the frequent linking of Sorrentino with Fellini, who's said to be his inspiration and master. Fellini may have lived in better times. But Fellini would not make a movie anything like this. He created fantasies, full of inspiration and personal style. His work is fundamentally brimming with humanity. Instead, there is a cold, hard edge to Sorrentino's work that is utterly un-Felliniesque, despite the similarly elaborate, carnivalesque, and very Italian texture. Watching Loro with one's head full of Fellini is an amazement and a sadness. With its constant scenes of the exploitation of young women's bodies, it could also be totally indigestible to advocates of the #MeToo movement, not to mention all the drugs and excess, which might disgust anyone - though one swallowed that in the glorious ronde of La Grande Bellezza, because it all had a point, as the representation of an addiction to pleasure and distraction.

Nonetheless, this shows that Italians can still make amazing cinema. The acting is superb. Servillo is astonishing (that face, that grin! those endlessly complicated speeches to the lady he sells the apartment to, to prove he's still the greatest salesman in Italy), but Scammarcio is a surprise. If you thought he was just an aging pretty boy, wow! He embodies the crooked, addicted, greedy, star-struck young man with the bevy of prostitutes he's out to sell with utter conviction. The score is a delight. The southern Italian songs - sung by Servillo, too! and all the music, including opera. The production values are awesome. The scanty costumes of the babes! The splendid villas! the TV in SB's living room, giant and set in a handsome golden frame! Every scene is a new potential astonishment. But - this has been an issue before with Sorrentino - there is the issue of the structure, and the question, What the heck is all this supposed to be saying? Does anybody know? I'm not saying this is porn; and so what if it were? But remember Crazy Rich Asians. He comes to satirize and stays to celebrate.

Perhaps this viewpoint is explained in a summary of the film by Sorrentino himself which says it describes a "synthetic view of things" by Berlusconi that "potrebbe definirsi amorale, decadente, ma straordinariamente vitale" - "could be described as amoral, decadent, but extraordinarily vital." Absolved.

Loro I opened in Italy 24 Apr. 2018, Loro II 10 May; Loro, 13 Sept.]shown in various festivals, including Toronto. The combined version to be shown as part of the San Francisco Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

SFFILM Showtimes:
Sat, Apr 20 at 3:00 pm Castro Theatre

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