Silvio Berlusconi Biopic: 'Loro' Loro is the latest from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino and tells the story of businessman and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's last comeback.
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Silvio Berlusconi Biopic: 'Loro'

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Silvio Berlusconi Biopic: 'Loro'

Silvio Berlusconi Biopic: 'Loro'

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

What happens to a society when reality TV and political power collide? That question is at the heart of a new movie about former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. His nine years in office were mired with sex scandals, partisanship and corruption. As NPR's Bilal Qureshi reports, the new film "Loro" is unauthorized and unforgiving.

BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: "Loro," which translates as them, is not the conventional biopic. There are no hazy flashbacks to Silvio Berlusconi's childhood or scrolling text with datelines.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LORO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #1: (Singing) There's nobody to push us down.

QURESHI: Instead, a caravan of women marches through Rome to offer themselves to him. As historian and New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat explains:

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: That's a genius stroke to call it them. And you often see him as reflected in the eyes and minds of others.

QURESHI: For the first hour of the film, you don't even see him. His sycophants and superfans crowd parties designed to attract his attention. Ecstasy pills rain from the sky. The dream is access. And the tone is excess. Actor Toni Servillo plays Silvio Berlusconi in Paolo Sorrentino's new film.

TONI SERVILLO: (Through interpreter) Paolo has written a story of a politician who has never stopped being this great salesman, a business man who thought he could handle the political arena as if it were one of his businesses.

QURESHI: And what Berlusconi sold, says filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, was himself. He created a cult of personality and demanded loyalty.

PAOLO SORRENTINO: (Through interpreter) Berlusconi has always been the novelist of himself. Years ago, when Berlusconi wanted to convince people to vote for him, he sent everybody a book - his biography, which was made up essentially of images of himself, especially photographs. So that's how he views himself, essentially in images.

QURESHI: Berlusconi's critics on the left mocked and satirized those images.

SORRENTINO: (Through interpreter) These attacks were often counter-productive because people often sympathize with individuals who are attacked and who are portrayed as pathetic and ridiculous.

QURESHI: In Sorrentino's version of the story, Berlusconi becomes a complex, almost empathetic character who is struggling with his fading place in the political landscape, his old age and his crumbling marriage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LORO")

ELENA SOFIA RICCI: (As Veronica Lario, speaking Italian).

SERVILLO: (As Silvio Berlusconi, speaking Italian).

RICCI: (As Veronica Lario, speaking Italian).

QURESHI: In real life, Berlusconi hid his vulnerabilities with endless distractions, says historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

BEN-GHIAT: One of the things he did was continual moments of outrage to capture the news cycle. He was extremely expert in knowing what was going to spike ratings. So he changed what politics in the news was made of.

QURESHI: One thing he couldn't hide were his Bunga Bunga parties and the endless pipeline of women he used and dumped.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LORO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #2: (Cheering).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LE GOUDRON")

YACHT: (Singing in French).

QURESHI: The brash recreations of those parties fill the new movie.

BEN-GHIAT: Sorrentino does a wonderful job of showing how Berlusconi's television networks and his general ethos turned women into consumer objects. So the viewer of Sorrentino's film should watch for the sheer numbers of perfect bodies to the extent where you hardly notice them anymore as individuals. And that's intentional.

QURESHI: Paolo Sorrentino won the foreign language Oscar in 2014 for his film "The Great Beauty," which juxtaposed the vulgarity of Rome's power hungry with the majesty of its ancient buildings. Ruth Ben-Ghiat says the filmmaker does something similar with "Loro."

BEN-GHIAT: Sorrentino's always been very skillful at creating moods - moods that can be accessed when he has party scenes but also a kind of nostalgic elegiac stillness. And he often uses Rome. And there is this tension between the stillness and solidness of Rome and the garish, spectacle driven, always more bodies, always more women of Berlusconi's life.

QURESHI: Actor Toni Servillo says while the film "Loro" may be about the darkness in his country, it's a cautionary tale about a kind of politics that has now spread beyond Italy.

SERVILLO: (Through interpreter) I think we're living in dark times because it's a dark age when a country relies on a strongman who holds within himself the reins of destiny. In Europe, we see that a lot in the advancement of the growth over the right wing. And I find that highly, highly, highly is troublesome. (Speaking Italian).

QURESHI: Silvio Berlusconi left the Italian prime ministership eight years ago. The film about him and about them opens in the U.S. this month.

Bilal Qureshi, NPR news.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELEVEN")

CHRISTIAN LOFFLER AND MOHNA: (Singing) My best in the world of their tunes. You were my...

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