Roberto Benigni: filmmaker turns 70

Only achieved world fame in the late 90s, but has long been an icon in Italy: Roberto Benigni is 70 years old and can look back on an eventful career.

Roberto Benigni: filmmaker turns 70

Only achieved world fame in the late 90s, but has long been an icon in Italy: Roberto Benigni is 70 years old and can look back on an eventful career. After his beginnings in alternative theater, the prankster first presented himself to a larger audience in the 1970s as an actor in the series "Televacca". He made his directorial debut in 1983 with "Tu mi turbi". Since then he has alternated between acting, writing and directing, sometimes all at once. Benigni was really noticed internationally for the first time in Jim Jarmusch's (69) "Down by Law" (1986). In it, he appears as a reconciler for two inmates.

In "Life is Beautiful" (1997) he played the leading role, worked on the screenplay and directed. The work received the 1999 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Music to a Drama and Best Actor. The tragic comedy is about the Jewish Italian Guido Orefice, who is taken to a concentration camp with his family during the Nazi era. He tries to keep his four-year-old son Giosuè away from the horrors there. He explains to the boy that everything is just a complicated game. The little one has to play along nicely in order to win a tank in the end.

Benigni's father, Luigi, spent two years in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from 1943 to 1945 and shared his experiences for the film with his son. In this respect, the tragicomedy is probably Benigni's most personal work. As in many of his productions, he plays in "Life is Beautiful" alongside his wife Nicoletta Braschi (62), who mimics Guido's wife in the film.

He dedicated his emotional acceptance speech for winning the Oscar for best foreign language film to Braschi. The film star, who grew up in modest circumstances, also thanked his parents for giving him "the gift of poverty". "Without her, I wouldn't be here today," said Benigni in 1999. Unforgettable is the moment when he had climbed over the seats of his front people, drunk with happiness, before he jumped onto the stage and into the arms of laudator Sophia Loren (88).

Golden Boy, meanwhile, for Best Actor was not only something special for Benigni, but also for the history books: making him the first non-English speaking actor in all ages to be given the honor. His second acceptance speech of the evening was as endearing as his first: "That's a terrible mistake! I've used all my English!"

In addition to his film career, the actor with the contagious smile was also very politically involved for a long time. His embrace of communist party leader Enrico Berlinguer (1922-1984) in 1983 went down in history. Benigni often positioned himself against long-time President Silvio Berlusconi (86).

Gradually, however, he reduced these efforts, for which he had to accept some criticism from the left-wing party spectrum. "It's true that I've been keeping out of day-to-day politics for some time. But that's a sign of growing political maturity," he said to "Stern" in about 2003. "I no longer want to be 'blackmailed' by certain people into certain statements. As an artist, I have more of a moral task, namely to convey beauty, poetry and feelings to people. That is where the strongest revolutionary power lies."

The filmmaker's childishly naive, sometimes silly humor was not always well received. After "Life is Beautiful", Benigni found it difficult to be internationally successful. "Robert Benignis Pinocchio" flopped in the USA in 2002 and never even made it to the cinemas there. The master himself explained that with the bad editing and the weak synchronization there: "That damaged him." At the same time, he always made it clear that he didn't want to pander: "I'm proud of this difference, because it makes up the cultural wealth of our society. In any case, I've never looked at the US market: My Pinocchio is an anti-figure to Disney Pinocchio that Americans love so much." In 2019, Benigni appeared as Geppetto in Matteo Garrone's (54) "Pinocchio", his last film participation to date.

At the Venice International Film Festival 2021, the cheerful nature from Tuscany received - despite some setbacks - the Golden Lion for his life's work. It will be interesting to see which chapters he wants to add to this.

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