If the first of Paolo Sorrentino’s twin films, Them 1 (Loro 1), was mainly a critique of the trashy vulgarity that permeates Italian society, its follow-up Them 2 (Loro 2) aims squarely at “Him,” Silvio Berlusconi himself. A well-paced satire with a sober ending, it is entertaining throughout but ultimately feels a bit toothless. Possibly out of libel and lawsuit considerations, the pic seems forced to tread cautiously around a subject clamoring for directness. The results are a lot like Nanni Moretti’s 2006 film-within-a-film The Caiman, which also got S.B. in its sights but was unable to shoot.
These days, when the idea of a tycoon-turned-politician has become a commonplace, Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello’s screenplay about Berlusconi, then the richest man in Italy and four times a prime minister, certainly rings true. But after decades of ferocious editorials, news stories and accounts of court trials, Italian audiences will find little here to surprise them, and the final judgment that the great man is “pathetic” feels too little and too late. Offshore, the combined films could work well as three and a half hours of adult TV entertainment.
Entertaining and outrageous but packing little bite.
Toni Servillo, who has gone from strength to strength in Gomorra, Il Divo and La grande bellezza, may look a little waxy as Berlusconi, but he brilliantly mimes his voice, gestures and mannerisms, not to mention his wily self-justification. In this second part, Elena Sofia Ricci offers a meaty portrait of Veronica Lario, his outraged, book-reading wife. The other characters are roman à clef figures easy to identify, many of whom are still on the public scene. Though international viewers won’t recognize the various factotums, hookers and hangers-on who surround Berlusconi like flies, their function is clear.
The second film picks up where the first left off in an eye-popping scene of Tamara (Euridice Axen) sitting stark naked beside a swimming pool, carefully shaving her pubic hair while yelling at her misbehaving son. She and hubby Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio) run a prostitution ring in Bari and have gambled on renting a vacation villa in Sardinia next to Berlusconi’s, bringing along 28 attractive young girls as a calling card.
Silvio has just pacified his wife and is playing the good husband, entertaining richer and somewhat classier guests in his villa. Furthermore, he is recharging his batteries after his third government was shot down, hoping to return as P.M. in a fourth. When he complains about being sidelined to his old confidante and business partner, he is reminded he’s the greatest salesman on Earth and only needs to persuade six senators to jump ship and come over to his party to hold sway again: “In love, you betray. In politics, you change your mind.” Buying the senators is delicately handled in the script, but the gist is clear.
In a film made out of odd bits and pieces, there is one immortal scene: Silvio testing himself to see if he can still work the old magic that got him started in the real estate business, when he sold apartments in a dead market. He picks up the phone book and calls a gloomy housewife out of the blue, and against all odds, he sells her an imaginary apartment that hasn’t even been built yet.
It’s a convincing example of the man’s sheer genius in handling people by selling them dreams. Between crooning “Malafemmena” to his enchanted wife and exploiting the gold-diggers next door for his own pleasure, Servillo’s charismatic portrait is spot-on and even, dare one say, perversely admiring. So much so that it seems a pity when things fall apart.
Scandal (unspecified; there are so many) hits the papers and Veronica packs her bags for a trekking holiday to view temples in Cambodia. When she returns, it will be to ask for a divorce in a beautifully sustained scene of recriminations, in which Ricci courageously holds her own and shows there are some people her husband can’t sell smoke to.
With Veronica gone, the villa’s gates are opened to the unruly crowd next door. As the barely dressed girls wine, dine and dance the night away, an innocent-looking 20-year-old (Alice Pagani) tells Berlusconi frankly that she doesn’t want him to make her an actress or a congresswoman, and that his breath reminds her of her grandfather’s. After that put-down, he returns to the party and plunges into the bath of flesh that has been prepared for the emperor, a version of the famous “bunga-bunga” games held after dinner in Berlusconi’s Milan residence.
The final scenes take place in L’Aquila on the night that the earthquake destroyed the city. Berlusconi is back in power and dutifully marches through the rubble with the firemen, promising homes and new dentures to replace what was lost. Later, in a very Felliniesque moment, a statue of the crucified Jesus is pulled out of the ruins of a church under the morose gaze of the homeless “them.”
Both films enjoy top technical work that keeps the action buzzing. Lele Marchitelli’s score creates a happening atmosphere for Luca Bigazzi’s sweeping cinematography and Stefania Cella’s utterly elegant Italian villas. Special mention goes to Carlo Poggioli and his riveting, barely-there costumes for most of the female cast.
Production companies: Indigo Film, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak, Euridice Axen, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Ricky Memphis, Roberto De Francesco, Dario Cantarelli, Anna Bonaiuto, Alice Pagani, Roberto Herlitzka
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Screenwriters: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello
Producers: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Viola Prestieri, Carlotta Calori
Co-producers: Jerome Seydoux, Ardavan Safaee, Muriel Sauzay
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Stefania Cella
Costume designers: Carlo Poggioli
Editor: Cristiano Travaglioli
Music: Lele Marchitelli
Casting director: Anna Maria Sambucco
World sales: Pathe Pictures International