Italian showdown is camera-ready

Walter Veltroni takes on Silvio Berlusconi

It’s tempting to see the Italian electoral race as a faceoff between Italy’s TV and film industries.

TV mogul and two-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is the frontrunner (ahead by 5% and 9% in various polls) in the April 13-14 elections against film-buff pol Walter Veltroni, who pens novels, launched the Rome Film Fest and counts Robert De Niro and Tom Cruise as friends.

Berlusconi fired his first salvo early in the campaign, claiming the bespectacled Veltroni, 52, was unfit to govern because he went to film school.

The 71-year-old Berlusconi, by contrast, has a law degree and did his thesis on how to contractualize ad spots.

Veltroni, who made the Rome fest his baby as mayor, lashed out against Berlusconi, asserting the mogul’s three dominant Mediaset channels depict a crass Italy that is far from reality.

“There is a better country, and it’s a different show,” he said as he toured the country on his eco-friendly campaign bus. “The role models, the values, the language out there, are not what you are getting from the couches in your homes.”

Veltroni has supporters in the film biz, too, like helmer Bernardo Bertolucci who lamented recently: “The country is split and this is a big mystery to me. It really could happen that Italy finds itself once again under a regime of sorts.”

The mood was less downcast last week at a Rome confab called “Where Is Italian cinema going?”

“Veltroni could boost the industry,” said one prominent producer. “But don’t forget that Berlusconi owns the country’s biggest movie outfit (Medusa). In the end, subsidies for the arts will depend more on the economy than on who is in power.”

Berlusconi, despite a recent facelift, has been shunning Veltroni’s offer to engage in a face-to-face TV debate, even on one of his own stations. Pundits say the fact Italy’s Mr. Television thinks he has nothing to gain from a tube duel with the underdog film buff means he’s jittery.

But JP Morgan seems to be betting on a Berlusconi win, predicting that profit margins at Mediaset will soon be seeing a boost.

“Last time he was in power, his party passed a media law that favored Mediaset,” the report reminds.

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