Sometimes an Oscar acceptance speech can be more memorable than the performance that earned the award in the first place. For example, more people associate Italian actor Roberto Benigni with his exuberant, heavily accented speeches than the film for which he won two Academy Awards, 1998's "Life Is Beautiful."
Benigni stood up in his seat and walked on the backs of chairs to get to the stage when it was announced that "Life Is Beautiful" won the Best Foreign Language Film. Then later in the evening, he surprised even himself when he won the Oscar for Best Actor, beating out the heavy favorites Ian McKellen and Tom Hanks. He said with a laugh, "This is a terrible mistake because I used up all of my English."
But that was 13 years ago, and Benigni hasn't barely been seen on movie screens in the U.S. since then. So what has he been up to?
He followed "Life Is Beautiful" with a live-action version of the fairy tale "Pinocchio" in 2002. Like his previous film, he co-wrote, directed, and starred in the film alongside his real-life wife, Nicolette Braschi. And while it was successful in his native Italy, "Pinocchio" was a critical and financial flop in America. Originally released with English dialogue dubbed over the picture, it scored a 0% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was eventually re-released in a subtitled Italian version, but that didn't stop it from getting six Razzie nominations, with Benigni taking the title of "Worst Actor."
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The last time Benigni was in an American film was in the 2003 release "Coffee and Cigarettes." It was a collection of short films from longtime Benigni collaborator, writer/director Jim Jarmusch ("Down by Law"). But Benigni's segment was a piece with comedian Steven Wright that had actually been filmed back in 1986. In 2005, Benigni directed and starred in another unconventional romance opposite Braschi, "The Tiger and the Snow." It was a love story set in the midst of the Iraq War. The film only played on four screens in the U.S., disappearing after two weeks.
Now, though, Benigni is coming back to America in a big way. He has a leading role in "To Rome With Love," the next film from writer/director Woody Allen. Allen has experienced a late-career resurgence over the past decade with films shot in Europe. 2005's "Match Point" and 2008's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" -- filmed in England and Spain, respectively -- were hits with critics and audiences. And last year's "Midnight in Paris" was the biggest box office hit of his career and earned him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
Allen's new film tells several stories of Americans and Italians colliding in the ancient city. Originally titled "The Bop Decameron" (and then retitled "Nero Fiddled"), it stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young man visiting Rome with his father (Alec Baldwin) who gets involved with his girlfriend's pal (Ellen Page). In a separate story, Benigni plays a man who suddenly becomes the focus of intense media speculation. The film also stars Penelope Cruz, who won an Oscar for Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," as a bewitching call girl. Allen also appears in his first film role since 2006's "Scoop."
"To Rome With Love" will open in the U.S. on June 22.
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