A director-approved cut-down of two separate films, Paolo Sorrentino’s portrait of Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi (Servillo) is a messy but enjoyable study in Wolf Of Wall Street-style excess.
Bold, stylish and intoxicating.
Sorrentino’s way into Berlusconi’s seductive (read: debauched) world is via Sergio Morra (charismatic Riccardo Scamarcio), an ambitious, high-class pimp-cum-wannabe political player. As we first meet him, he cajoles a local politician to give him a contract via a hooker who Sergio is amazed to discover has Berlusconi’s face tattooed on her buttocks. From that point onwards, Sergio conspires to meet Berlusconi by any means necessary, renting a villa next door to Berlusconi’s sprawling pad and filling it to the brim with scantily clad, nubile young women (Loro is rife with male gaze issues). When this fails to tempt the politician, Sergio launches a boat party to capture Berlusconi’s roving eye. Bingo.
At this point, Sorrentino switches focus to the man himself, struggling to persuade six senators to switch allegiances and put his party back on top but also to be a good husband to his long-suffering wife, Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci). Here Servillo has his big scene: Berlusconi, a former real estate seller, cold calling a housewife to sell her a dream apartment (that hasn’t been built yet) just to prove the old sweet-talking magic is still alive. Later, when Veronica tries to leave Berlusconi, there is a brilliantly played scene of recrimination and rebuttal in which Veronica heroically stands her ground.
Servillo is both grotesque and captivating, perhaps lending the real-life monster a little too much charm — there’s a great moment where he is sexually rebuffed by a 20-year-old (Alice Pagani) because his breath reminds her of her grandfather’s. It’s a blip in the film’s non-stop orgy of sex, drugs, “bunga bunga” games and bad pop music. If it’s not Sorrentino on tip-top Great Beauty form — there are slack stretches and, in stitching two films together, the film has a strange dramatic shape — it nonetheless has images (an exploding garbage truck) and sequences that remain bold, stylish and intoxicating.