Christopher Machell Toronto

Toronto 2018: Loro review

★★★★☆

Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro begins as it means to go on. A lawyer-baiting disclaimer informs us that the film is not based on real events (even when it is), that any similarity to real people is purely unintentional (even when it isn’t), and that any testimony from reliable witnesses on the aforementioned unrelated parties has had nothing to do with the events or characters depicted on-screen.

Following this helpful clarification, the first scene features the absurdly surreal image of a lamb wandering into an air-conditioned villa, captivated by the images on a tacky TV game show. As the wooly spectator ogles the beautiful assistants, the A/C gradually lowers the temperature until the creature keels over and dies. Later, we learn that the villa belongs to recently outed President of Italy’s Centre Right Party, Silvio (Toni Servillo): the metaphor could hardly be clearer.

Meanwhile, grifting businessman Sergio (Riccardo Scarmarcio, channeling Ray Liotta) is working his way up the political food chain of influence. We first meet him schmoozing a local official in order to win a lucrative contract to supply the region’s school meals. He insists that he’s not for sale right up until the point that Silvio brings aboard his gorgeous business partner Tamara (Euridice Axen), who has an acrobatic talent for persuasion.

Sex, glamour and drugs are Sergio’s stock in trade, so he organises a party designed to catch Silvio’s philandering eye. Combining the social satire of Fellini with the sinful hedonism of latter-day Scorsese – think La Dolce Vita via The Wolf of Wall Street – the party sequences are a riot of decadence. Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography is a stunning kaleidoscope of colour, naked pleasure and voyeurism; it’s at once a vision of desire and shattering, vacuous ugliness.

Conventionally beautiful, naked flesh is endlessly paraded to be gawked at, but the flitting spectre of desire quickly gives way to a glutted exhaustion at the empty bacchanal. How much more mindless hedonism must be endured? Is there any substance under the surfaces of perfect breasts and ripped abs? The exploitative and deeply misogynistic display becomes almost profound in its excess. As we ogle these statuesque visions of desire, classical notions of aesthetic beauty itself seem to fall apart as just another form of idolatry.

At the top of this vacuous hegemony is Silvio himself. A magnificent construction of pure vanity, his is face buried under a top soil of ludicrous make up and a permanent, vacillating grin, like a wax work come to life. It’s important that he rarely feels threatening – his oafish philandering and terrible jokes masking the empire of financial and political clout that he has amassed, and as a salesman he is terrifyingly persuasive. Indeed, with his embittered wife Veronica (a wonderfully sour Elena Sofia Ricci), and his cult-of-personality politics, one wonders if Loro is about another, more contemporary perma-tanned gangster-politician.

Loro’s final act leaves an aging Silvio to contemplate the void alone. Perhaps, in a dark night of the soul, he will even make amends to a few of those he has grifted – he does, after all, make good on his promise to replace the homes lost in the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. Yet as the camera drifts silently over a marble statue of Christ, pristine among the rubble, it settles on the faces of the townsfolk, and we are we left to ponder the depth and vanity of even that act of altruism.

The Toronto International Film Festival 2018 takes place from 6-16 September.

Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell