Italo hit joins foreign-language Acad race

ROME — Capping off a charmed year for Italy’s most popular comedian, Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful” has been chosen as the country’s official submission in the foreign-language film category of the 1999 Academy Awards.

“This is extraordinary news,” says Benigni, in London for the film’s U.K. release. “This morning a waiter came to bring my coffee and said, ‘Congratulations on the Oscar.’ I told him, ‘I haven’t won it yet, but thanks anyway.’ I don’t know how he got the news.”

The bittersweet tragicomedy, which was recently released in the U.S. through Miramax, tells the story of a Jewish father transported to a World War II concentration camp, where he attempts to shield his infant son from the horrors of Nazism by spinning the hardships of their internment into part of an elaborate game.

Financed and distributed domestically by the Cecchi Gori Group, the $6.5 million feature was produced by Elda Ferri and Gianluigi Braschi for Melampo Cinematografica, with Mario Cotone serving as executive producer.

Released last Christmas in Italy, the film became one of the season’s major hits, going on to gross $38 million. It premiered internationally in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this spring, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize.

At Italy’s national film awards, the David di Donatellos, “Life Is Beautiful” staged virtually a clean sweep, winning a total of eight awards. In addition to the statue for best film, Benigni nabbed awards for best actor, director and screenplay, co-written with Vincenzo Cerami, while Ferri and Braschi were named best producers.

The same David di Donatello jury of 335 past winners from various branches of the industry also was responsible for the selection of Italy’s Oscar candidate, with the Benigni pic chosen by 228 votes out of 289 ballots received. The submission was announced Friday by national producers association ANICA.

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