Benigni, Roberto 1952-
BENIGNI, Roberto 1952-
Born October 27, 1952, in Misericordia, Arezzo, Italy; son of Luigi (a farmer, carpenter, and bricklayer) and Isolina (a fabric inspector) Benigni; married Nicoletta Braschi (an actress), 1991. Education: Attended seminary in Florence, Italy; graduated from accounting school in Prato, Italy.
Actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. Actor in films, including (as Cioni Mario) Berlingeur ti voglio bene (also known as I Love You, Berlinguer), [Italy], 1977; Letti selvage (also known as Four Tigers in Lipstick, Tigers in Lipstick, and Wild Beds), [Italy], 1979; I giorni cantati (also known as The Days Are Numbered), [Italy], 1979; (as Roberto) Chiedo asilo (also known as Seeking Asylum), Gaumont-Italia, 1979; Clair de femme (also known as Womanlight and Chiaro di donna), Janus, 1979; (as upholsterer) La luna (also known as Luna), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1979; (as Benigni) Il pap'occhio (also known as In the Pope's Eye), [Italy], 1981; Il minestrone, [Italy], 1981; Anche i ladri hanno un santo, 1981; (as Benigno; and director) Tu mi turbi (also known as You Disturb Me), [Italy], 1983; (as the beige sheik) F.F.S.S. cioè che mi hai portato a fare sopra Posillipo se non mi vuoi più bene, [Italy], 1983; Lieto Fine, [Italy], 1983; Tutto Benigni, [Italy], 1983; Effetti personali (also known as Personal Effects), 1983; (as Saverio; and director with Massimo Troisi) Non ci resta che piangere (also known as Nothing Left to Do but Cry), Cecchi Gori Group, 1984; "1986" segment, Cinématon, 1984; (as Bob) Coffee and Cigarettes (short film), Cecchi Gori Group, 1986; (as Roberto) Down by Law, Island, 1986; (as Guiditta; and director) Il piccolo diavolo (also known as The Little Devil), Cecchi Gori Group, 1988; (as Ivo Salvini; and director) La voce della luna (also known as The Voice of the Moon), Cecchi Gori Group, 1989; (as Dante and title role; and director) Johnny Stecchino (also known as Johnny Toothpick), New Line Cinema, 1991; (as driver in Rome) Night on Earth (also known as LANewYorkParisRomeHelsinki), Fine Line Features, 1991; (as Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau, Jr.) Son of the Pink Panther (also known as BlakeEdwards' Son of the Pink Panther), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1993; (as Loris; and director and producer) Il mostro (also known as The Monster), Columbia/TriStar, 1994; (as Guido Orefice) La vita è bella (also known as Life Is Beautiful), Miramax, 1997; (as Lucius Detritus [Tullius Destructivus]; and director) Astérix et Obélix contre César (also known as Asterix and Obelix Take on Caesar), Films 7, 1998; (as title role; and director) Pinocchio, Miramax, 2002; and Coffee and Cigarettes, 2003.
Appeared in television programs, including The 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 1999; (in archive footage) Who Is Alan Smithee? (documentary special), American Movie Classics, 2002; and (as host) L'ultimo del paradiso, 2002. Appeared as "faux film critic" in Italian television series L'altra domenica (also known as The Other Sunday); also appeared in Onda libre (also known as Free Wave), and in an episode of Willemsens Woche. Actor in stage productions, including Ciono Mario (monologue), tour of Italian cities, 1975; and solo show Tutto Benigni (also known as All Benigni). Performed the love song "Quanto T'ho Amato."
Nine David di Donatello awards (Italy), grand prize, Cannes Film Festival, 1998, best actor award, Screen Actors Guild, and best actor and best foreign-language film awards, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, all 1999, all for Life Is Beautiful.
Berlingeur ti voglio bene, [Italy], 1977.
Chiedo asilo (also known as Seeking Asylum), Gaumont-Italia, 1979.
Tu mi turbi (also known as You Disturb Me), [Italy], 1983.
Non ci resta che piangere (also known as Nothing Left to Do But Cry), Cecchi Gori Group, 1984.
Coffee and Cigarettes (short film), Cecchi Gori Group, 1986.
(With others) Il piccolo diavolo (also known as The Little Devil), Cecchi Gori Group, 1988.
La voce della luna (also known as The Voice of the Moon), Cecchi Gori Group, 1989.
(With Vincenzo Cerami) Johnny Stecchino (also known as Johnny Toothpick; produced by New Line Cinema, 1991), Theoria (Rome, Italy), 1991.
(With Vincenzo Cerami) Il mostro (also known as The Monster; produced by Columbia/TriStar, 1994), Longanesi (Milan, Italy), 1994.
(With Vincenzo Cerami) La vita è bella (also known as Life Is Beautiful; produced by Miramax, 1997), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1998, translated by Lisa Taruschio, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
Astérix et Obélix contre C&eacuse;sar (based on the French graphic novel by Albert Uderzo; also known as Asterix and Obelix Take on Caesar), Films 7, 1998.
Pinocchio, Miramax, 2002.
L'ultimo del paradiso (television screenplay), 2002.
Quando Benigni ruppe il video: i primi testi di Roberto Benigni, edited by Silvano Ambrogi, preface by Mario Carpitella, Nuova ERI (Turin, Italy), 1992.
(With Giuseppe Bertolucci) Tuttobenigni; Berlinguer ti voglio bene; Cioni Mario di Gaspare fu Giulia (plays), Theoria (Rome, Italy), 1992.
Io un po' Pinocchio: Roberto Benigni racconta il suo film tra le pagine del romanzo di Collodi, Giunti (Florence, Italy), 2002.
While Roberto Benigni has long been one of the most famous entertainers in his native Italy, the comic actor/director/screenwriter became well known to a worldwide audience in 1998 with the release of his Oscar-winning Holocaust film Life Is Beautiful.
Benigni's early career would not seem to recommend him as someone to make a film about a great tragedy like the Holocaust. His first two successful films, Johnny Stecchino and The Monster, are both comedies about mistaken identities: in the former, the bus driver played by Benigni is mistaken for a mob boss, Johnny Stecchino (also played by Benigni); in the latter, Benigni's character is confused with a serial killer.
Life Is Beautiful also begins with a light-hearted atmosphere. In 1930s Tuscany, a beautiful young woman (played by Benigni's wife Nicholetta Braschi) literally falls into Benigni's arms. His character, Guido, dubs her "Princepessa" ("Princess") and sets out to woo her away from her fiancee, a pompous Fascist official. He succeeds, through a series of farcical incidents, but as their courtship progresses, the viewer begins to sense a rising tide of anti-Semitism. The two marry and walk into their house; when they emerge seven years have passed and they have a son, Giosue. The anti-Semitism is worse now, and Guido finds himself forced to explain things like a "no Jews or dogs allowed" sign in a store to his son. (He makes a joke of it, promising Giosue that they will put up a sign for their family bookstore banning spiders and Visigoths.) Soon Guido, who is Jewish, and Giosue are put on a train bound for a concentration camp. Guido's wife, a Gentile, refuses to be separated from them and gets on the train as well. In the camp, Guido still tries to use humor to make the situation more bearable for his son, and for the other inmates as well. In one oft-commented upon scene, soon after arriving at the camp Guido offers to translate the commands of a German guard into Italian for the prisoners. Instead, he makes up his own camp rules, which center around being stoical and offer a real tank as the grand prize. Through this sort of determination and strength of spirit, Guido manages to protect his son until the end of the war.
The idea for Life Is Beautiful came from Benigni's father, who spent two years in Bergen-Belsen, one of the more notorious German concentration camps, during World War II. After the man was released and had a family, he taught his children about his time there in the same way he taught them to deal with the many troubles that the family faced in life: with humor and confidence. Despite Benigni's personal connection to the story, many concentration camp survivors and others were apprehensive when they heard that Benigni was planning to make a film about the Holocaust. A good number, however, were won over by the finished product, including Anti-Defamation League chair Abraham Foxman, who commented, "Humor and the Holocaust are antithetical, but what I didn't think was doable he made doable. We needed someone of his stature and genius to take the risk."
The most common complaint from critics about Life Is Beautiful was that the film shielded the audience from the full horror of the Holocaust in the same way that Guido attempted to shield his son from the same thing. In fact, one reviewer even criticized Guido's wish to maintain his child's innocence: "Benigni never entertains the notion that distorting a child's experience of the Holocaust, and excluding him from a terrible collective memory, may not be a wholly good thing," John Calhoun wrote in Interiors. But to Raphael Shargel, writing in New Leader, the film succeeds on its own terms, as a fable and not as history. Although it does not explicitly demonstrate the most violent scenes of the Holocaust, Life Is Beautiful "never lets us forget the idiocy of racist pride, the insanity of the Nazi regime, or that the death camps coldly destroyed millions of innocents," Shargel wrote.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Celli, Carlo, The Divine Comic: The Cinema of Roberto Benigni, Scarecrow Press (Lanham, MD), 2001.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Newsmakers 1999, Issue 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
America, March 13, 1999, Richard A. Blake, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 31.
American Journal of Italian Studies, spring, 1999, Mario Aste, review of Johnny Stecchino, pp. 11-22, Stelio Cro, review of Life Is Beautiful, pp. 23-28.
Back Stage, March 12, 1999, Jonathan Davies and Zorianna Kit, "SAG Honors Benigni, Paltrow," p. 2.
Business Week, November 25, 2002, Christina W. Passariello, "High Hopes for a Wooden Performance: Italy Is Counting on Pinocchio to Restore Its Cinema Luster," p. 32.
Christian Century, March 24, 1999, James M. Wall, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 331.
Cineaste, fall, 1998, Robert Sklar, review of Life Is Beautiful, pp. 42-44.
Commonweal, March 26, 1999, Richard Alleva, review of Life Is Beautiful, pp. 18-19.
Economist (U.S.), January 17, 1998, profile of Benigni, p. 78; November 2, 2002, review of Pinocchio.
Entertainment Weekly, October 15, 1993, Lawrence O'Toole, review of Johnny Stecchino, pp. 83-84; July 11, 1997, Mike D'Angelo, review of The Monster, pp. 74-75; December 4, 1998, interview with Benigni, p. 50; March 1, 1999, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, interview with Benigni, p. 22, "Roberto Benigni: Finding Humor in the Face of the Holocaust, He Reminds the World Why Life Is Beautiful," p. 108; April 9, 1999, "Roberto Benigni Has Conquered Hollywood, Not to Mention America. What Will He Do in the Afterlife?," p. 8.
Europe Intelligence Wire, October 17, 2002, Philip Willan, "Does My Nose Look Big in This?: Triple Oscar-Winner Roberto Benigni Used to Be the Darling of Italy. So Why Is Everyone So Upset about His Film of Pinocchio ?"
Film Journal International, November, 2002, Andreas Fuchs, "Pinocchio Takes Italy," p. 54.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 20, 1999, Gilles Whittell, profile of Benigni.
Hollywood Reporter, October 7, 2002, Nick Vivarelli, "Benigni Gives Life to Pinocchio," pp. 6-7, "New Pinocchio Home in Italy," p. 20; October 14, 2002, Nick Vivarelli, "No Lie: Pinocchio Sets Record," p. 20; October 15, 2002, Nick Vivarelli, "Political Puppet: Pinocchio Premiere Causes a Stir in Italy," p. 14.
Interiors, April, 1999, John Calhoun, review of Life Is Beautiful, pp. 85-86.
Interview, November, 1998, Graham Fuller, review of Life Is Beautiful, pp. 78-79.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 25, 1999, Claudia Smith Brinson, "Life Your Life with Exuberance, and Happiness May Come," p. K0997; December 26, 2002, Jay Boyar, review of Pinocchio, p. K6569, Chris Vognar, review of Pinocchio, p. K6712.
Lancet, March 20, 1999, Daniel Davies, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 1021.
Maclean's, November 9, 1998, Brian D. Johnson, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 89.
National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 1998, Joseph Cunneen, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 16.
New Leader, January 11, 1999, Raphael Shargel, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 18; April 5, 1999, Ruth Ellen Gruber, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 11.
New Statesman, February 12, 1999, Francine Stock, review of Life Is Beautiful, pp. 42-43.
New York Times, November 3, 2002, Frank Bruni, review of Pinocchio and Life Is Beautiful, section MT, p.3.
People, March 8, 1999, "Gift of Love: Roberto Benigni's Own Father Inspired Life Is Beautiful," p. 101.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, October 30, 1998, Philip Booth, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 22.
Time International, October 21, 2002, Michael Brunton, review of Pinocchio, p. 64.
Variety, December 22, 1997, David Rooney, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 61.
Video Business, December 13, 1999, Gary Frisch, review of Life Is Beautiful, p. 16.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (July 8, 2003), "Roberto Benigni."*