Comedy of terror: Benigni follows 'Life is Beautiful' with farce set in Iraq war

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The Independent Online

The Italian comedian who won an Oscar for his film Life is Beautiful, a winsome comedy set in a Nazi concentration camp, is following it up with a sentimental farce about the war in Iraq.

The Italian comedian who won an Oscar for his film Life is Beautiful, a winsome comedy set in a Nazi concentration camp, is following it up with a sentimental farce about the war in Iraq.

Roberto Benigni, a rubber-faced comic from Tuscany, leapt to international fame in 1997 with the Holocaust comedy, which he both directed and starred in. The plot involved an Italian Jewish father and son dispatched to a Nazi camp, and the efforts of the father to prevent his small son discovering what was happening to all the inmates.

It was praised by many critics but others questioned the good taste of extracting laughs, however charming, from the Holocaust.

But Benigni betrayed no such doubts, and now seems set to outdo himself with a film called The Tiger and the Snow, about a love-intoxicated poet who accidentally stumbles into Iraq as last year's invasion is getting under way. Again Benigni stars and directs, and his wife Nicoletta Braschi is the love interest. Shooting of the Italian scenes in the film finished recently in central Rome, and the Iraq scenes will be shot soon on location in a desolate part of Sardinia.

"War is at the root of the film, which has the flavour of a bittersweet comedy," he told Il Messaggero newspaper. "I have not avoided certain dramatic moments, it conveys all the emotions in the world and gives a sense of death which cannot be but which it would not be right to evade. Certainly I have had to balance all the risks implicit in an operation of this sort, but the truth is that this Iraq war has penetrated our dreams."

Sentimentality holds no terrors for Benigni, and it looks as though The Tiger and the Snow will be no exception to his previous form. "It is precisely when we are hurled into the inferno that we discover how to spread our wings and fly," he enthused. "No massacre can prevent another massacre from occurring. Only poetry can triumph! It is alive, as we are."

Asked about the difficulty of filming a story set in a war that is still in progress, he replied: "I have obeyed the instinct of life, and I was not afraid. There are precise references [in the film] to the great powers of the earth, and I intend to make a sort of epic."

Explaining the presence of the film's poet hero, Attilio de Giovanni, under the bombs in Baghdad, he said: "Dreaming and the invitation to dream, these are the emblems of life. The artist, in this case, fights with words. Everybody must do what they are called to do. The courgettes cultivated by my father were, in his way, a retort to evil. My poet is neither Dante nor Ariosto, he doesn't know a word of Arabic... he's a person who incarnates the human race, who succeeds in making even the stones live.

"His best friend is Fuad, an Arabian poet. Because in the script we will also speak of the marvellous culture of the Arab people, which resembles the starry sky."

Benigni denied that he was a pacifist. "There are some wars which I am pleased about, for example the ones that stopped Hitler and Napoleon. Our generation should get the Nobel Peace Prize. It is the first one to be educated against war." The Tiger and the Snow, he added, "is intended to be a gift for everybody. If Life is Beautiful was a hymn to life, this is a leap to Sirius." The film is due to be released next year.

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