Having formerly tackled previous infamous Italian Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti in Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino and Toni Servillo now portray right-wing playboy-premiere Silvio Berlusconi. The first section of the film introduces up from afar, following an ambitious young power couple hoping to score an introduction to “Him” (Loro translates to “Them”) by employing an army of young women and staging lavish parties within sight of Berlusconi’s estate. Afterwards the perspective switches to Berlusconi himself (Servillo) as he goes about his days attempting to rehabilitate his power, his libido and his relationship with his wife.
The film succeeds where something like Vice fails, as I was convinced by the character, even if I still wasn’t convinced that this is what Berlusconi was actually like. It makes sense as a character study of a type rather than an individual. There is little here about his policies or his achievements but more about his worldview and personality. Even if you know very little about Italian politics, it’s easy to tie his “salesman” philosophy to certain other incumbent world leaders.
There are definitely moments that slide into indulgence and silly visual metaphors that it doesn’t pull off, and the party scenes are a touch “Wolf of Wall Street-y”. But unlike that movie there are enough moments of self-reflection and character to avoid merely sliding into a faecal quagmire of misogynistic glorification of excess. The biggest and most hedonistic party of the film is concluded with the films one genuinely sublime moment as the revellers all stare off into the horizon in one moment of perfect transcendent unity. It’s of the kind Gaspar Noé spent the whole of Climax trying and failing to achieve.
It’s a weaker film than Sorrentino’s others and as always is too long, but it has enough of his idiosyncrasies to remain pithy and striking.