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A Great Actor

Elaine Wan

I had the great opportunity to watch the Oscars on television during Spring break. The stream of glamorous Oscar award winners in designer apparel was good for viewing pleasure, but the thank-you speeches soon became long and emotional. The only exception was Roberto Benigni’s speech. The Tuscan comedian, actor and director of the critically acclaimed film, Life is Beautiful, convinced viewers at home, like me, that life was truly beautiful when he accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor. He expressed his intense joy by climbing on top of seats and leaping over seated members in the audience, including Steven Speilberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw.

For the past few weeks leading up to the Oscars, the media has been promoting the Academy Award nominated film Life is Beautiful, and the witty, charming, and ingenuous Benigni. Benigni is a good actor on film, but very few know that he is an even better actor in real life.

As I was flying back to Boston this weekend, I read the Sky magazine offered on the Delta Shuttle which featured an interview with Benigni. It was not hard to understand why Benigni had so quickly become a favorite in the eyes of the Academy and the media.

When the reporter of Sky asked him questions regarding his thoughts of being a Tuscan comedian, he expressed himself with great eloquence and truth, or at least he made his words seem that way to readers. He compared himself to a jester of the royal court who tries very hard to make people laugh even when the audience spits at him.

When the reporter asked him if he would ever redo the film in English using his own voice, he answerered humorously that he deeda nota wanta speek like deesa inda filma. He also plainly confessed that Warner Brothers, Miramax Films, and Universal Studios had already offered him contracts to make new films but he did not plan to move to the United States because he thought “a good idea is a good idea anywhere.”

Benigni is indeed eloquent and is known for giving simple but long speeches that often rhyme every few sentences. In his acceptance speech for best actor, he rushed up to the stage to receive his Oscar and said, “This must be a mistake. I have already used up all my English so I don’t have any words to express my gratitude.” With these few simple words, he had won the heart of the audience, the viewers at home and the respect of the whole international film community who might have otherwise felt disdain towards this foreign newcomer who claimed three Oscars with one movie.

His interviews with the media and speeches have made him out to be a steadfast, honest, sweet, intelligent and vivacious character. He seemed like an artist who would never give in to the evil lure of lucrative film production. An artist who would keep films running on creativity rather than on financial profitability. But the truth is we have been cheated by a false illusion.

Following the screening of Life is Beautiful in Italy and the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie received standing ovations, Benigni found himself in the limelight of international attention. Benigni also received numerous film awards in Europe before the film won Oscars for Best Actor, Best Foreign Film, and Best Dramatic Score in the United States.

After Benigni’s success at the Academy Awards, Miramax Films announced this week that Life is Beautiful will be dubbed into English with Benigni’s own voice and the voice of Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s wife and co-star.

Perhaps, Miramax finally added enough zeros to Benigni’s check to convince him to also portray to children in America that the Holocaust was a game between good guys and bad guys, in which love triumphed at the end. Or perhaps, we will soon hear that Benigni is moving to Hollywood. But one thing is for sure: You will be seeing an English version of Life is Beautiful in a theater near you.