'I Wanted To Go Back Home' - Sophia Loren Remembers It All

Interview: The legendary Italian actress shares memories of when it all began, and describes a life that remains rich with honors and new artistic challenges.

The Italian icon in 2009 (Immortal-truth)
The Italian icon in 2009 (Immortal-truth)
Simonetta Robiony

TAORMINA - Like the Greek temples of this Sicilian city, Sophia Loren is an Italian icon who grows better with time. The legendary actress received a special career honor here last week at the 58th edition of the Taormina Film Festival, in the coastal city's ancient Greek Theater. "I'm a very fragile woman, I get emotional easily," said the 77-year-old diva, the only Italian actress ever to win an Academy Award.

LA STAMPA: What do you remember about the first time you attended the Taormina Film Festival?
SOPHIA LOREN: "The amazement for being in the Greek Theatre. It was 30 years ago, but I still remember how my heart was beating when I entered the arena. I was so struck by the magnificence of the place that I was walking without looking where I put my feet. Someone rushed to stop me because I was about to fall off the stage."

You've lived through extraordinary times. What would you like to teach the younger generations?
Hope. In my life, everything happened as a surprise. I was 16, in high school, specializing in education. I wasn't thinking about movies, but then my mother forced me to follow her to Rome. At home we didn't have money, and in the film studio Cinecittà they were shooting Quo Vadis?. We were extras for 30,000 lire a day for both my mother and me. It was a huge amount of money. We had never seen so much money. But I wanted to go back home to Pozzuoli near Naples, to my sister, my grandparents, my house. My mother stopped me from going back -- and for me it was a very tough moment. My mother demanded too much from me. I often thought I would never be able to make it.

And now, you are here to be honored once again for your career. How do you do it?
One step at the time. I'm a judicious and methodical person. Every time that I meet someone I create a mental portrait of the person in front of me. I always looked for the right encounters. And I still receive awards, even if I don't deserve them.

Italy is going through a very tough moment, but your generation went through the War. Why does it see even worse now?
Maybe we should take a step back. Or we won't be able to help young people find their path, which is not always easy -- sometimes you get lost. It once happened to me too. I understand young people.

You recently played your own mother in a two-part Italian television miniseries about her early life, based on the memoir written by your sister Maria. How was this experience?
It was very difficult. I rediscovered all those things she had driven into us.

Are you always nervous when you are shooting a movie?
No. Only the first days. I have to know the director well, my co-stars, the team... I used to be a bit scared. Then it went away."

Your two children an orchestral conductor and a director have undertaken artistic careers. Did you have an influence on them?
No. Edoardo decided that he wanted to be a director by himself. Carlo was pushed by his father the Italian film producer Carlo Ponti to study music and he ended up loving it.

Some of your four grandchildren look like you?
All of them do, the two boys and the two girls. But they have very light blue, Nordic eyes.

Today plastic surgery is a trend. Is it worth it?
If only this beauty would last by itself! I see around some awful women who have become unrecognizable. It's a big mistake. You should never become someone different than who you are. You can find a good surgeon, make some small tweaks, that's all.

What are your next plans?
At my age, I want to choose carefully. Scripts keep arriving, but often they are not interesting or right for me. I could keep playing the characters I have always played, but of a different age. Of course if Italian director Carlo Verdone called, I would accept immediately, because there are directors to whom you just don't say no. I would like, though, playing in The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau, directed by my son. Anna Magnani did it. It is a beautiful play."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Immortal-truth

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!