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.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
The reindeer pen at the attraction
lifeLaurence Llewelyn-Bowen's 'Magical Journey' and other winter blunderlands
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Latest stories from i100
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

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible