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Carlo Lizzani, Director and Former Venice Festival Topper, Falls to His Death

Italian director was 91

Italian director, screenwriter, and critic Carlo Lizzani, who was Oscar-nominated in 1950 as co-writer of neo-realist classic “Bitter Rice,” went on to direct dozens of films, and in the late 1970s relaunched the Venice Film Festival as its artistic director, died in Rome on Saturday. He was 91.

The cause is believed to be suicide. Lizzani died after jumping from the third-floor balcony of his central Rome apartment, according to Italian media, and he reportedly had left a suicide note.

Born in Rome, Lizzani became a neo-realist cinema protagonist during Italy’s early postwar period, initially as a critic, then as a scribe working with, among others, Roberto Rossellini on the gut-wrenching 1948 “Germany Year Zero,” a look at devastated Berlin through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy.

Lizzani’s collaboration with “Bitter Rice” helmer Giuseppe De Santis began in 1947 on “Caccia Tragica,” about small-time criminals amid Italy’s post-war poverty. After the similarly themed “Rice,” starring Silvana Mangano and shot in 1949, Lizzani in 1951 directed his first feature, the World War II resistance drama “Achtung! Banditi!,” starring Gina Lollobrigida.

Other films Lizzani is known for include “Chronicle of Poor Lovers” (1954) with Marcello Mastroianni, which scored a special jury nod at Cannes; 1968 actioner “Bandits in Milan” (aka “The Violent Four”), about a manhunt for bank robbers; “Fontamara” (1977), based on the eponymous Italian novel by Ignazio Silone; and more recently Holocaust drama “Hotel Meina,” which screened at Venice in 2007.

In 2006 Lizzani shot “Celluloid,” an account of the making of Rossellini’s 1945 neo-realist milestone “Rome, Open City.” He was also a prolific documaker and TV movie helmer.

Lizzani was the Venice Film Festival’s artistic director between 1979 and 1982. Appointed at a time when the Lido had lost luster due to Italy’s 1970s turmoil, he was able to breathe new life into the world’s oldest fest.

Paolo Baratta, president of the Venice Biennale, which oversees the event, mourned Lizzani’s passing.

“He knew how to give the festival new energy,” Baratta said in a statement. “He knew how to create a nucleus of young students and experts that would represent in future years the true (cinematic) elite. The world of Italian cinema owes him a lot.”

Survivors include his wife, Edith Bieber, a son, Francesco, and a daughter, Flaminia.

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