Deborah Ross

Men behaving very badly

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest is a sprawling mess that caters exclusively to the male gaze

Men behaving very badly
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Selected cinemas, 18

Fans of Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, The Great Beauty (which won an Oscar) and his HBO series, The Young Pope, will have been keenly anticipating Loro, his take on the life and times of Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon and former Italian prime minister who has been involved in one lurid scandal after another. But if you were expecting some kind of blistering take-down, or satire, it isn’t that, and if you were expecting to somehow get under Berlusconi’s skin, heaven forbid, it isn’t that either. Hard to say what it is, beyond a sprawling mess that caters so exclusively to the male gaze it makes The Wolf of Wall Street look like a children’s tea party. Either that or this is: Manspreading, The Movie.

The film was released in two parts in Italy, amounting to three and a half hours, but the two have been spliced together for the UK, chopping an hour of the running time, for which we must be grateful. It is set between 2006 and 2010, and is more about the social landscape at that time than Berlusconi himself. In fact, he doesn’t figure at all in the first act. Instead, we begin with Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a small time businessman who bribes local politicians by procuring young women for them. He summons Candida for one such politician. ‘Take your tit out,’ he instructs her. The politician has sex with Candida and then Sergio has sex with Candida. We never know what Candida thinks about any of this. Sergio is actually in a relationship with Tamara (Euridice Axen), who is later, in effect, raped by a politician. We never know what Tamara thinks about that. Meanwhile, I was thinking: wouldn’t this be more interesting if we were told the woman’s point of view? (By the way, I don’t know who plays Candida as she’s not on the cast list; poor Candida).

Sergio is ambitious, wants to get close to Berlusconi, and has a plan. He will rent the property opposite Berlusconi’s estate on Sardinia, fill it full of beautiful girls, dancing half-naked and high on drugs and champagne, and wait for Berlusconi (played by Tony Servillo and a ton of hair dye) to lift his binoculars. Which he does, finally. So then it’s ‘bunga bunga’ parties over at his place, filmed on Berlusconi’s actual estate, with Berlusconi’s permission, which does make you wonder about the relationship between filmmaker and subject. That said, it is an incredible estate, running to 168 acres with a faux volcano to entertain guests and 68 opulently decorated rooms. To be perfectly honest, I was far more interested in the property porn than I ever was in the porn porn.

There is no real narrative structure, and very little to the story beyond the grotesque treatment of women, who are only ever referred to as ‘sluts’ or ‘whores’ or ‘bimbos’. Make the point, you’d think, and move on, but it’s that, over and over again. There are a few spectacular set-pieces — ecstasy pills falling from the sky, Berlusconi engulfed by butterflies — but only a couple of scenes that offer any emotional  heft. One is when a young woman rejects Berlusconi on the grounds ‘you have the breath of an old man’, which did seem rather sad, and another when his second wife, Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci), who is portrayed as a nag and a scold, tells him: ‘You never reveal yourself. You are one, uninterrupted performance.’ Berlusconi isn’t revealed here either. He just grins beatifically as he carries on bedding the next whore, slut or bimbo. It is very one-note. You could say this is about a certain male power, and I get that, but what do the women think?