ROME – Italian screenwriter, author, and playwright Vincenzo Cerami, who was Oscar-nommed for penning Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” and worked with top Italo helmers, including Marco Bellocchio and Gianni Amelio, died on Wednesday in Rome.
He was 72. The exact cause was not disclosed, but Cerami had been sick for some time.
Born in Rome to Sicilian parents, Cerami had the good fortune of having Pier Paolo Pasolini, not yet a film director at the time, as high-school teacher in Ciampino, just outside the Italian capital.
After graduating, he worked on the set of several Pasolini movies and was assistant director on Pasolini’s 1964 comic fable “The Hawks and the Sparrows” (Uccellacci e Uccellini).
In 1976 Cerami published his first novel “Un borghese piccolo piccolo,” the tale of a lower-middle-class Joe who joins a masonic lodge to ensure his son will get his ministry desk job. The book was adapted in 1977 by Mario Monicelli into a tragicomedy starring Alberto Sordi and Shelley Winters.
Cerami’s longstanding collaboration with Benigni began with Benigni-directed “The Little Devil,” (1988), toplining the Italo comic and Walter Matthau, and continued throughout all the rest of Benigni’s subsequent hit comedies, “Johnny Stecchino” (1991), “The Monster” (1994), “Life is Beautiful” (1997), “Pinocchio” (2002) and “The Tiger and the Snow,” with Jean Reno and Tom Waits in 2005.
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“He taught me how to make people’s hearts beat,” a saddened Benigni told Italian media on Wednesday.
Bellocchio, with whom Cerami collaborated on 1982 psychodrama “The Eyes, The Mouth,” remembered Cerami’s “great capability to become emotional, to be moved by things; but at the time an irony that generated blazing jokes which were never mean.”
Cerami also worked for many years penning musical plays with composer Nicola Piovani, who won an Oscar for “Life is Beautiful.”
Together they wrote “Le cantate del Fiore e del Buffo,” “Il signor Novecento,” “Canti di scena,” and “Romanzo Musicale,” among other works, all well-received in Italy.
Cerami is survived by his wife Graziella Chircossi, who is Pasolini’s cousin, a daughter Aisha, who is an actress, and son, Matteo, a film director.