ROME — Italian voters' love affair with Silvio Berlusconi may be waning, judging by the slumping fortunes of his Forza Italia party in recent elections.
But Italians are invited to explore the politician's relations with women in a new film by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino.
The director on Wednesday described his film "Loro" (Them) as neither pro- or anti-Berlusconi — but instead tries to contemplate the "feelings" of the now 81-year-old ex-premier and media mogul toward his wife, who later sought a divorce, citing his keen interest in very young women.
"It is not an ideological film or a film that takes a side," Sorrentino insisted to reporters after he screened the film in a Rome movie house. "On the contrary, it's just the opposite."
Instead, so far, what "hasn't been emphasized was the dimension of the feelings that were behind the political man," he said.
The director described his latest film as also exploring people's fear of old age and death. "Berlusconi's fear of old age and death is the fear we all have," he said.
Berlusconi, who served three terms as premier, cannot currently hold office due to a tax fraud conviction, so he couldn't run for a fourth term in March 4 elections. But he still leads the center-right political party he created in the early 1990s.
Italians were fiercely divided when Berlusconi used his media empire as a springboard into politics. Detractors feared he wanted to use his political power to protect his business interests. Admirers saw him as a fresh, straight-talking, can-do figure after decades of byzantine politics yielding short-lived governments.
Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty," which won the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, described the decadent political environment in Rome. His 2016 "Youth -- La giovinezza" described aging men's struggle with dwindling sexual energies.
His latest film probes the collapse of Berlusconi's second marriage, to Veronica Lario, and her disappointment at the unraveling of their relationship.
The backdrop for much of the film is a Sardinian villa, and the film features decadent parties there with lots of single young women present as Berlusconi's guests. But the movie doesn't cover Berlusconi's notorious "bunga bunga" sex-fueled parties at his Italian mainland homes — or the related legal woes that plagued him.
Berlusconi, who has insisted that those evenings with his guests were "elegant soirees" with clean-cut entertainment, was acquitted on appeal of paying for sex with an underage woman.
Italian actor Toni Servillo plays Berlusconi in the film, which is divided in two parts: "Loro 1" and "Loro 2." The first part opened in Italian cinemas last week, while "Loro 2" opens May 10.
One of Italy's most acclaimed theater and screen actors, Servillo has played another iconic Italian politician, former seven-time premier Giulio Andreotti, in Sorrentino's movie, "Il divo."
While Andreotti was a man who "moved through the palaces of politics as an introvert," Servillo said Berlusconi is an "extroverted diva who puts himself at the center of the political scene...waiting only for the moment to come back" to the center of politics.
Italian newspaper "Il Fatto Quotidiano," known for its anti-Berlusconi stance, said Sorrentino with "Loro" effectively "sanctions the recognition in the (not only) Italian collective imagination of the end of a personality, who already belongs to this country's past history."