Inevitably, Hollywood will make movies about Trump’s presidency, emphasizing the nonstop chaos and idiocy. We may not even have to wait very long—Oliver Stone gave us W. while its subject was still in office, premiering the film mere weeks before Obama was first elected. (In a show of dignity and restraint that now seems potentially lost to us forever, the Bush administration never made any public comment about W., opting simply to ignore it.) Given Trump’s ludicrous personality, it’s hard to imagine how any cinematic treatment could at once take him seriously and address him accurately, but whoever takes the job—assuming it isn’t Stone—might want to take a close look at Loro, Paolo Sorrentino’s typically hyperstylized portrait of former Italian Prime Minister (and blatant proto-Trump) Silvio Berlusconi. Pitched halfway between parody and exposé, it offers a fine model for the only approach that’s likely to be effective: crafting a movie that goes just as shamelessly over the top as did the man himself.
In its original form, Loro—the title means Them, referring to sycophants, but is also a play on l’oro, meaning “gold”—was also a deliberate exercise in excessiveness, consisting of two separate films (released weeks apart in Italy) with a total running time of nearly three and a half hours. That’s more Berlusconi than an American audience, less familiar with his many scandals and outrages, might care to tackle, so 47 minutes have been trimmed from the U.S. release, condensing the project to a single (but still pretty long) feature. This decision slightly weakens what had been a clear distinction between act one and act two, with Berlusconi himself (played by Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo) seen from a distance in the former and taking center stage in the latter. Instead, we get what amounts to a lengthy prologue focusing on Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), a power-hungry businessman desperate to worm his way into Berlusconi’s orbit. (The film takes place between 2006 and 2009, a period that mostly falls between Berlusconi’s second and third terms as prime minister; he was at least theoretically more susceptible to manipulation at the time.)
As reconstituted for the U.S., Loro is arguably strongest during this initial movement, which plays like a more vulgar riff on Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. Seeking to attract Berlusconi’s attention without approaching him directly, Morra rents a villa adjacent to the billionaire’s summer home and throws lavish, Gatsby-esque parties, with Sorrentino serving up one deliriously tacky set piece after another. Scamarcio (best known to Americans as the ruthless crime lord in John Wick: Chapter 2) slightly resembles a young Tony Curtis, and his slick yet anxious performance here recalls the servile press agent Curtis played in Sweet Smell Of Success, a combination of bluster and flop sweat. The wielding of power tends to be less compelling, dramatically, than are the efforts of relatively powerless characters to attain it, and Loro might have worked perfectly well, start to finish, as a close look at Italy’s equivalent of Anthony Scaramucci.
On the other hand, Servillo—who previously embodied another former Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, in Sorrentino’s Il Divo—never fails to deliver a memorably offbeat take on an outsize figure. Loro loses a bit of momentum once Berlusconi finally becomes its central figure, but it also gains some much-needed complexity; Sorrentino and Servillo acknowledge the man’s naked corruption (though the shorter version, at least, simply doesn’t have time to address most of the many, many investigations of same, ranging from extortion to tax fraud to child sexual abuse), but refrain from turning him into a cartoon villain. The film’s finest scene sees Berlusconi—who’d started out in the construction business, just like another fellow elected to his country’s highest office as a political neophyte—attempt to regain his self-confidence by calling someone at random and attempting to sell her a fake real-estate property, using a pitch he’d honed decades earlier. As a metaphor for our own ongoing charade, that’s hard to beat.