EXCLUSIVE: A passion project for star and producer Javier Bardem, Loving Pablo will have its world premiere next week here at the Venice Film Festival. Directed and written by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, the story is based on the book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar by Virginia Vallejo, the Colombian journalist who had a volatile affair with drug lord Pablo Escobar. Bardem and his real-life wife Penelope Cruz play the lovers.

Check out a first clip from the film above (and another below).

Millennium Media

This is a reteam for Bardem and De Aranoa after 2002’s Goya-winning Mondays In The Sun. Bardem says it took him quite a while to get Loving Pablo together. “I was attracted to playing Pablo Escobar, for many years now. It was around 1998 that I started to be intrigued by this character as a person. And since then I’ve been offered other Escobar roles, but I always refused them because there wasn’t any feeling beyond a stereotype.”

The story chronicles the rise and fall of Escobar and his relationship with Vallejo throughout a reign of terror that tore a country apart. Peter Sarsgaard also stars.

Bardem elaborates, “I think one of the themes that we are working with is what the word ‘enough’ means. Enough of wanting to get some place, wanting to have more, wanting to be better, bigger, stronger, and what kind of effect it has on a person’s mind when there is never enough. For Pablo, nothing was ever enough, he always wanted more and he had all of the resources and the tools to become stronger and more powerful. That will eventually destroy a person’s mind.”

The unravelling of Escobar’s relationship to the people in his life is key to the film. “That’s why it’s called Loving Pablo,” says Bardem, “because this movie is through Virginia’s eyes but also it’s through all the eyes of all of those who loved Pablo Escobar on a personal level and envied and admired him also as a savior. Our movie is about what happened when they ultimately discover what kind of a person he really is and the world that will leave behind.”

Although Cruz says she’s never met Vallejo, she has “studied about 800 hours of various interviews and shows that she did as a journalist and TV presenter. She is the one that trained Escobar and taught him how to use the media to communicate, how to deal with the press, how to address the public. In his political career, she became a significant figure.”

Cruz adds: “When you portray a character like Virginia, I can’t judge her or justify her. I have the feeling she didn’t know quite what she was getting into. As an actor, I just have to try to understand what was going through her mind when she made some of those decisions. After a while, when she wanted to get out of that relationship, she couldn’t, and that affected her life in so many different ways. There were some scenes that were very hard-core, very hard to play because you had to go to those places. And for me, it was important that this movie was not glamorizing the world of the Narco. I feel like some of those scenes have to leave you with pain in your stomach. It can not be a gratuitous violence. I think that our film has accomplished that.”

Loving Pablo travels from Venice to Toronto and will also screen at the San Sebastian Film Festival where it’s the closing-night pic.

Producers are Dean Nichols, Bardem, Miguel Menendez de Zubillaga and Kalina Kottas. Millennium Media has international sales.

Here’s an extra look: