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Roberto Benigni

Roberto Remigio Benigni, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (born 27 October 1952) is an Academy Award-winning Italian actor, writer and director of film, theatre and television.

Biography

Early years

Benigni was born in Manciano, Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy, the son of Isolina, a fabric inspector, and Luigi Benigni, a bricklayer, carpenter, and farmer. His first experiences as a theatre actor took place in 1972, in Prato. During that autumn he moved to Florence where he took part in some experimental theatre shows, some of which he also directed. In 1975, Benigni had his first theatrical success with Cioni Mario di Gaspare fu Giulia, written by Giuseppe Bertolucci.

Benigni became famous in Italy in the 1970s for a shocking TV series called Onda Libera, on RAI2, by Renzo Arbore, in which he interpreted the satirical piece "anthem of the melt body" (L'inno del corpo sciolto, a hymn to defecation). A great scandal for the time, the series was suspended due to censorship. His first film was 1977's Berlinguer ti voglio bene, also by Giuseppe Bertolucci.

Afterwards, he appeared during a public political demonstration of the Italian Communist Party, of which he was a sympathiser, and in this occasion he took in his arms and dangled the national leader Enrico Berlinguer, a very serious figure. It was an unprecedented act, given that until that moment Italian politicians were proverbially serious and formal (and Berlinguer was perhaps the most serious of them all). It represented a breaking point, after which politicians experimented with newer habits and "public manners", attended fewer formal events and, generally speaking, modified their lifestyle in order to exhibit a more popular behaviour. Benigni was censored again in the 1980s for calling the Pope John Paul II something impolite during an important live TV show ("Wojtylaccio", meaning "Bad Wojtyla" in Italian).

His popularity increased with L'altra domenica (1978), another TV show by Arbore in which Benigni portrays a lazy film critic who never watches the films he's asked to review.

1980s

Benigni's first film as director was Tu mi turbi (You upset me, 1983). On the set he met the Cesenate actress Nicoletta Braschi, who was to become his wife, and who has starred in most of the films he directed.

In 1984, he played in Non ci resta che piangere ("Nothing left to do but cry") with the very popular comic actor Massimo Troisi. The story was a fable in which the protagonists are suddenly thrown back in time to the 15th century, just a little before 1492. They start looking for Columbus in order to stop him from discovering the Americas (although for very personal love reasons), but are not able to reach him.

Benigni in America and the collaboration with Cerami

Beginning in 1986, Benigni starred in three films by American director Jim Jarmusch. In Down By Law (1986) (which in Italy had its title spelled "Daunbailò", in Italian phonetics) he played Bob, the innocent abroad, convicted for murder, whose irrepressible good humour and optimism help him escape and find love (also starring Braschi as his beloved.) In Night on Earth, (1991) he plays a cabbie in Rome, causing his passenger, a priest, great discomfort by confessing his revolting sexual experiences. Later, he also starred in the first of Jarmusch's series of short films, Coffee and Cigarettes (2003).

In 1993, he starred in Son of the Pink Panther, directed by veteran Blake Edwards. There, he played Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau's illegitimate son who is assigned to save the Princess of Lugash. The film bombed in the US, but was a hit in Italy, his home country.

A serious role was in Federico Fellini's last film, La voce della luna (1989). In earlier years Benigni had started a long-lasting collaboration with screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami, for a series of films which scored great success in Italy: Il piccolo diavolo ("The little devil", with Walter Matthau), Johnny Stecchino ("Johnny Toothpick"), and Il mostro ("The Monster").

Life Is Beautiful and beyond

Benigni is probably best known outside Italy for his 1997 tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella), filmed in Cortona and Arezzo, also written by Cerami. The film is about an Italian Jewish man who tries to protect his son's innocence during his internment at a Nazi concentration camp, by telling him that the Holocaust is an elaborate game and he must adhere very carefully to the rules to win. Benigni's father had spent two years in a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, and La vita è bella is based in part on his father's experiences. In 1998, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and Benigni personally won the Best Actor (the first for a male performer and third overall in a non-English speaking role). The Best Foreign Language Film is awarded to the film itself, but Academy rules stipulate that the director will accept the award. The score by Nicola Piovani also won an Oscar.

Although the story and presentation of the film had been discussed during production with different Jewish groups to limit the offense it might cause, the film was criticized by a minority of critics who accuse it of presenting the holocaust without suffering, and some who considered that "laughing at everything" was not appropriate.

Famously, in the midst of being so giddy with delight, he climbed on the back of the seat for his procession to the stage and applauded the audience after winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Also, after winning his Best Actor Oscar, he said in his speech, "There must be some terrible mistake, I used up all my English!" The next year's ceremony, when he read the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Actress, host Billy Crystal playfully appeared behind him with a large net to restrain Benigni if he got excessive with his antics again.

Benigni played one of the main characters in Asterix and Obelix vs Caesar as Detritus, a corrupted Roman tax collector who wants to kill the Caesar and claim the throne of the Roman Empire.

As a director, his 2002 film Pinocchio, one of the most costly films of Italian cinema, was coldly received by critics, and bombed in North America, receiving a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes.

That same year, he gave a typically energetic and revealing interview to Canadian filmmaker, Damian Pettigrew for Fellini: I'm a Born Liar (2002), a cinematic portrait of the maestro that was nominated for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards, Europe's equivalent of the Oscars. The film went on to win the prestigious Rockie Award for Best Arts Documentary at the Banff World Television Festival (2002) and the Coup de Coeur at the International Sunnyside of the Doc Marseille (2002).

Benigni's latest film is La tigre e la neve (The Tiger and the Snow, 2005), a love story set during the initial stage of the Iraq War.

On 15 October 2005, he performed an impromptu strip tease on Italy's most watched evening news program, removing his shirt and draping it over the newscaster's shoulders. Prior to removing his shirt, Benigni had already hijacked the opening credits of the news program, jumping behind the newscaster and announcing: "Berlusconi has resigned" (Benigni is an outspoken critic of media tycoon and then former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). The previous day, he led a crowd of thousands in Rome on Friday in protest at the center-right government's decision to cut state arts funding by 35 percent.

On 2 February 2007, he was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. On 22 April 2008, he was conferred the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Malta, celebrated by a Settimana Dantesca including Benigni's first stage appearance at a university and the premiere of him performing with Dante scholar Robert Hollander.

Benigni was given offers to bring his Dante show to Broadway, but he has since turned them down.

TuttoDante (Everything About Dante)

Benigni is also a well appreciated improvisatory poet (poesia estemporanea is a form of art popularly followed and practiced in Tuscany), and is appreciated for his explanation and recitations of Dante's Divina Commedia by memory. He has reached over 45% of audience share on TV in Italy in his lectures on the Divine Comedy.

During 2006 and 2007, Benigni had a lot of success touring Italy with his live show TuttoDante (Everything About Dante). TuttoDante is a "one man show" centred upon the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri which stars Roberto Benigni. He is on stage for about one hours and half, combining current events and memories of his past narrated with an ironic tone, and then he begins a journey of poetry and passion through the world of the Divine Comedy.

TuttoDante went on tour and has been performed in numerous Italian piazzas, arenas, and stadiums, for a total of 130 shows, with an estimated audience of about one million spectators, of whom 120,000 in Rome only. Over 10 millions more spectators can be added to these, who have watched the TV show "Il V° dell’Inferno" ("The 5th of Hell"), transmitted by Rai uno on November 29th, 2007, with re-runs on Rai International on the following days. TuttoDante is a fascinating voyage that extends from current events to the Divine Comedy, from moments of pure comedy to moments of breathtaking poetry. The affection, the appreciation and enthusiasm demonstrated by the audience towards this show have been so strong that Benigni stated: "It’s been an incredible work, I’ll treasure this experience as one of the sweetest, most popular, and emotional memories of my life".

TuttoDante is currently in the process of preparation to cross the national borders, to undertake a journey (during 2008 and 2009) that will bring Roberto Benigni and Dante around Europe, the U.S.A., Canada, and South America.

Other media

Roberto Benigni is also a singer-songwriter. Among his performances recorded are some versions of Paolo Conte's songs.

An animated clay Benigni fights and defeats Benito Mussolini in a Celebrity Deathmatch episode.

Filmography (director)

Year Film Other notes
1983 Tu mi turbi (You Upset Me) also starred
1984 Non ci resta che piangere (Nothing Left Do But Cry) also starred
1988 The Little Devil (Il piccolo diavolo) also starred
1991 Johnny Stecchino (1991) also starred
1994 The Monster (Il mostro) also starred
1997 Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella'') also starred
2002 Pinocchio also starred
2005 The Tiger and the Snow (La tigre e la neve) also starred

Filmography (actor)

Year Film Role Other notes
1970s Onda Libera Mario Cioni TV show
1977 Berlinguer Ti Voglio Bene Mario Cioni
1979 I giorni cantati
Clair de Femme Barman
Chiedo asilo Roberti
La luna Upholsterer
Letti selvaggi The Principal
1980 Il Pap'occhio Begnini
1981 Il Minestrone Il maestro
Anche i ladri hanno un santo
1983 F.F.S.S. cioè che mi hai portato a fare sopra Posillipo se non mi vuoi più bene? Lo sceicco Beige
Effetti personali
Tu mi Turbi Benigno
Tutto Benigni Himself
1984 Non ci resta che piangere Saverio
Cinématon Himself
1986 Down by law Roberto
1988 The Little Devil Giuditta
1990 La voce della luna Ivo Salvini
1991 Night on Earth Driver (Rome)
Johnny Stecchino Dante, Johnny Stecchino
1993 Son of the Pink Panther Gendarme Jacques Gambrelli
1994 The Monster Loris
1997 Life Is Beautiful Guido Orefice Academy Award for Best Actor
1999 Asterix and Obelix vs Caesar Lucius Detritus (Tullius Destructivus/Catastrofus)
2002 Roberto Benigni - Chaos With Method
Pinocchio Pinocchio Razzie Award for Worst Actor
2003 Coffee and Cigarettes Roberto segment "Strange to Meet You"
2005 The Tiger and the Snow Attilio de Giovanni

Books

  • E l'alluce fu monologhi e gags (1996)

References

External links

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