Before your imagination gets ahead of itself, let us begin by making it clear that, despite the title, this is not (unfortunately) a film that follows Italy’s former Premier around during one of his infamous “Bunga Bunga” parties. However, with a frivolous nature that’s compounded with Coenesque characterisation, Chasing Berlusconi is still every bit as fun and flamboyant as the name suggests.
In much the same way he did with his 2011 film King Curling, director Ole Endresen once more mashes together a smorgasbord of ideas to form one wholly unconventional but riotously entertaining whole. The Berlusconi of this title is a racehorse, one of Europe’s finest no less, who has just been brought by Malte (Bjorn Floberg), the slightly deranged boss of former champion rider Bjarte (Edward Schultheiss).
Bjarte has been having a tough time of late; his problems are growing as rapidly as his stomach, with loan-sharks demanding he pay back the money he owes them, his sexually voracious wife (Veslemoy Morkrid) unhappy with their lack of love life, and his career looking to be on its last legs. Hoping it will solve his problems, Bjarte teams up with a pair of witless thugs (Jon Oigarden & Arthur Berning) and hatches a plan that involves bet rigging and horse tranquillising. But, as you would expect, things do not go entirely to plan.
Fused with an unceasing momentum, Berlusconi thunders out of the starting gates and continues to gather pace throughout. Revelling in the absurdities of his characters and their situations, Endresen throws everything he has at the screen. Sure, the odd joke misses the board, but for every one that does, five others uproariously hit the bullseye. Ludicrous visual gags, the most raucous being the sight of Bjarte’s nude nympho wife pouncing on him from the shadows at the dead of night, are blended with a relentless string of witty one-liners, which are all weaved together within the suitably madcap narrative.
That it’s a crime caper that takes the aesthetic form of a contemporary western only adds to the joyfully silly tone. The sight of Bjarte jockeying a defecating harness racehorse may not be a particularly inspired joke on its own, but juxtapose it with Pai Jackman’s majestic score, which effortlessly evokes the John Ford classics, and it takes on a new comic validity. Endresen is all too aware of this from the start and playfully employs the trope throughout, but is admirably careful to never push it beyond its comic value. The results are similarly successful, with cars squaring up to each other as if to duel within the settling dust of a quarry, and heroes riding off in to the sunset with their ladyloves at the end.
Bathing the film from the start is the oddball glow of the Coen Brother’s Fargo. The chaotic plot is splattered with sudden moments of gleefully gratuitous violence, and populated by an array of brilliantly bizarre characters. There’s a slight echo of Marge Gunderson in Henriette Steenstrup’s determined cop Lotte, and more than a little bit of Carl Showalter in Jon Oigarden’s hilariously short-fused Nico. Although, with his chubby cheeks poking out from under his ridiculous handlebar moustache, and his eyes growing ever wider as his anxiety continues to intensify, it’s Edward Schultheiss who singlehandedly steals our hearts as the flawed underdog at the heart of the story.
It’s Endresen however, who deserves to soak up the bulk of the praise. Making an audience laugh in unison is perhaps the hardest thing a filmmaker can do, yet he manages it agilely. As Berlusconi rounds the final furlong and gallops home, it’s the guffaws and cheers of the audience that await him on the finish line.