Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement: Marco Bellocchio

After tackling thorny issues pertaining to church, state and repressive forces in Italy for more than 40 years, Marco Bellocchio isn’t about to mellow out now. The director’s next film, to be titled “La bella addormentata” (Sleeping Beauty), was inspired by the Eluana Englaro right-to-die case, in which a woman spent 17 years in a vegetative state before her father, following a 10-year legal battle, was able to have her feed pulled.

The incident sparked a local controversy similar to the Terri Schiavo case in the U.S.: The final six days before Englaro’s clinical death split Italy, incensed the Vatican and prompted a political crisis in 2009, when prime minister Silvio Berlusconi tried to overrule the country’s top judges by issuing a special decree barring doctors from stopping her nutrition, only to have Italian president Giorgio Napolitano refuse to sign it.

“Her life was ended after 17 years, but to me, she was already dead way before that,” says Bellocchio, who developed and shelved at least two other projects before identifying this as his next feature (one, titled “La monaca di Monza,” turned on a transgressive 17th-century nun). The delay gave him perspective, he says: “During the Englaro case, I immediately thought about making a film; but now, after a time lapse, I actually feel a deeper involvement with the project.”

As for his approach to the sensitive subject matter, Bellocchio reveals that his key to representing Englaro’s drama will be to “leave it in the background and have three fictional storylines connect with it to provide a counterpoint.”

One thread, which gives the film its title, involves a past-her-prime movie star who keeps her beautiful daughter alive artificially inside their home. Another depicts a doctor’s determined struggle against the death wish of a suicidal drug-addicted young woman.

These intersecting narratives will set up situations in which the “fight to keep someone from dying has a purpose, a nd a totally different meaning from those fighting not to pull the plug on Eluana,” Bellocchio says.

Prolific Italian scribe Stefano Rulli, who has collaborated with Bellocchio several times before, and young novelist Veronica Raimo are co-authoring the screenplay with the helmer.

Cattleya, the Rome shingle in which Universal holds a stake, is producing. Pic is being mounted as a probable Italy-France co-prod, with Bellocchio’s regular backer, RAI Cinema, likely to board as the Italo distributor. Casting in under way, with plans to start shooting in Italy early next year.

“The stories are very strong and not schematic,” says Cattleya topper Riccardo Tozzi, who adds he isn’t nervous about the subject matter. “Marco is in a moment of grace. I have been wanting to work with him for years.”

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