Vincenzo Cerami Screenwriter best known for co-scripting ‘Life is Beautiful’

Pasolini was his schoolteacher and then his collaborator. ‘I owe everything to him,’ he said

Washington Post

A protégé of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the revered Italian writer and director, Vincenzo Cerami was a poet, novelist and playwright who wrote or co-wrote the screenplays of more than 40 films. But by far his greatest success came with Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s tragicomedy about a father’s quest to save his son’s life and innocence amid the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.

Few viewers of the 1999 Oscars ceremony could forget the sight of Benigni, the film’s director and star, exuberantly clambering over theatre seats to collect the Academy Award for best foreign language film. Benigni won the award for best actor; he and Cerami were nominated for best original screenplay. Of Cerami’s numerous collaborations with Benigni, Life Is Beautiful was the most daring. It presented tender romance, slapstick and the image, however brief, of a mountain of corpses – victims of Nazi slaughter.

Cerami and Benigni began discussing the film in the mid-1990s. Benigni wanted to express his comedy in an “extreme situation.” He could not imagine an environment more extreme than a concentration camp. His father had been in a Nazi camp and, to protect his children, had related his experience with humour. “I said to Roberto, ‘Strange – gaiety in a concentration camp?’ “ Cerami recalled. “But his father told his tales with a smile, because he couldn’t bear the misery and the nightmares and the memories.”

Life Is Beautiful introduces Benigni as Guido, a guileless sweetheart in love with Dora, an upper-crust signorina he greets as principessa (played by Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s wife). Amid the rise of Fascism they marry and have a son, Giosue, played by Giorgio Cantarini. Guido, who is Jewish, is forced to explain to the boy the antisemitism in their town.

When Giosue sees a sign declaring “No Jews or Dogs Allowed,” Guido suggests that at their family’s book shop they ban spiders and Visigoths. When the family is deported, Guido hides his son in the men’s barracks and convinces him that they have come to the concentration camp to compete in a game in which the prize would be a life-sized armoured tank.

“Points are lost three ways,” Guido announces before his wide-eyed boy and incredulous fellow inmates. “One, if you cry. Two, if you want to see your mama. Three, if you’re hungry and want a snack.” Guido maintains the elaborate deception to the end.

Critics were divided. “It dares to laugh in the face of the unthinkable,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times. “And because Mr Benigni can be heart-rending without a trace of the maudlin, it works.” In Time magazine, meanwhile, Richard Schickel wrote: “Sentimentality is a kind of fascism too, robbing us of judgment and moral acuity, and it needs to be resisted. Life Is Beautiful is a good place to start.”

Cerami said of the film, “In cinema, in art, people can’t watch more than 10 minutes of evil because in the end it becomes horror. You have to seek the beauty and the horror.”

Cerami was born in Rome in 1940, making him about the same age as the fictional Giosue. His schoolteachers included Pasolini, before Pasolini became renowned as an intellectual and giant of world cinema. Cerami studied physics before becoming an apprentice to his old teacher, rising to be assistant director of works including The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966). “I owe everything to Pasolini,” he said. “Without him I wouldn’t have been able to look at the world with pity and severity combined.”

Cerami’s first novel, An Average Little Man (1976), was adapted for the screen by Mario Monicelli and vaulted Cerami to international attention. His early work with Benigni included The Little Devil (1988) and the popular comedy Johnny Stecchino (1991). More recently, they worked together on Pinocchio (2002), an adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s fairy tale, and The Tiger and the Snow (2005) , a love story set partly in war-torn Iraq.

His first marriage, to the American actress Mimsy Farmer, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Graziella Chiarcossi; a daughter from his first marriage, the actress Aisha Cerami; and a son from his second marriage, the film director Matteo Cerami.

Vincenzo Cerami, screenwriter: born Rome 2 November 1940; married firstly Mimsy Farmer (marriage dissolved; one daughter), secondly Graziella Chiarcossi (one son); died Rome 17 July 2013.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice