Greetings again from the darkness. Silvio Berlusconi is a former Prime Minister of Italy, having served four times. He is also a billionaire businessman who has been deeply involved with Italian politics for more than 20 years. Berlusconi is in his 70’s and has been convicted of tax fraud, accused of conflicts of interest, and is well known for his brash and charismatic personality, as well as his scandalous personal lifestyle and numerous controversies. None of that is required information prior to watching the movie since it’s described as a “fictional” account, but it does help to have a basic understanding of the man.
It should be noted that the film was originally released as Part 1 and Part 2. The international version I watched has been edited to 151 minutes, almost one hour shorter than the two parts combined. It begins by following Sergio Morra, a charming hustler and schemer played by Riccardo Scamarcio (JOHN WICK 2). Along with his wife Tamara (Euridice Axen), he runs a prostitution and escort ring of beautiful young ladies … each willing to show and do whatever is necessary to obtain money, drugs, and a career or rich husband. It becomes apparent that Sergio really wants a chance to meet with “him”, Silvio Berlusconi, in hopes of some type of business partnership. Sergio’s meeting with Silvio’s lead mistress Kira (Kasia Smutniak) cracks the door that he so wishes to enter.
Sergio throws a party at Villa Morena, the home next to Silvio’s sprawling Sardinia country estate. Decadence and wild activities abound, as does dancing by the swimming pool to the thumping Italian techno music. There seem to be no rules, or even etiquette, at the party where nudity, drugs and booze are commonplace. The party gets Silvio’s attention and he agrees to meet with Sergio. It’s at this point where the film shifts to its second narrative. No longer focused on Sergio, the story becomes all Silvio.
Toni Servillo delivers a tour de force as Silvio Berlusconi. Sure, he is masked in make-up to capture the look of someone trying hard to look younger than they are – but that’s exactly what Silvio did (and does). Mr. Servillo manages to become the larger-than-life figure that commands attention in every crowd and every room. Elena Sofia Ricci plays Veronica Lario, Silvio’s wife. We witness their crumbling marriage and the unhappiness she has each day. Silvio’s process with everyone, including his wife, is to shift into smooth political salesman mode. In fact, one of the greatest scenes of all movies this year has Silvio re-capturing his early days as a real estate salesman as he pushes a non-existent apartment on a lonely housewife. The scene features fascinating acting, writing and filmmaking in one fell swoop.
Director Paolo Sorrentino is best known for his Foreign Language Oscar for the fantastic THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013). This film is more extreme and harsh than that one was, and Sorrentino co-wrote this script with Umberto Contarello. Frequent collaborator Luca Bigazzi delivers terrific cinematography. At times the film looks like one lavish fashion shoot. The score and music come from Lele Marchitelli and play a crucial role throughout. Italy is presented here as having declined into a state of hedonism with mass debauchery. It’s uncomfortable watching women stoop to these levels in hopes of being recognized and rewarded with some type of affirmation – either a better career, more wealth, or whatever their dreams might be. A powerful man is there to take advantage of such insecurities. The film touches on Silvio’s political power and the aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake. Much of the film focuses on the overall amorality of those involved, and though the actions of these folks might go against our own standards, we will admit that filmmaker Sorrentino has a knack for making something so vulgar still look darn good on screen.