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The Venice Film Festival will honor Oscar-winning Italian actor/director Roberto Benigni with its 2021 Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

Benigni, whose “Life Is Beautiful” – which he co-wrote, directed and starred in – won three Oscars in 1999, including best actor, recently returned to the big screen playing Geppetto in Matteo Garrone’s live-action adaptation of “Pinocchio.”

“Pinocchio,” which was a box office champ in Italy in 2019, has been recently released in the U.S. by Roadside Attractions and is nominated for 2021 Oscars in the best costume design and makeup and hairstyling categories.

Benigni’s last directorial effort is “The Tiger and the Snow,” in 2005, in which he also starred. In recent years the beloved Italian showman has been active with his stage adaptation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which toured in Italy and around the world.

In praising Benigni Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera noted that “few artists have equaled his ability to combine explosive comic timing, which is often accompanied by irreverent satire, with his admirable talent as an actor – at the service of great directors such as Federico Fellini, Matteo Garrone, and Jim Jarmusch.” Barbera in a statement also called Benigni “an engaging and sophisticated literary exegete.” 

Benigni stated: “My heart is full of joy and gratitude. It is an immense honor to receive such an important recognition of my work from the Venice International Film Festival.”

Benigni, 68, was born in the Tuscan town of Misericordia (Castiglion Fiorentino, Arezzo) on October 27, 1952. He began his career in the early 1970s and soon became one Italy’s most popular actors and directors and with his 1999 Oscars for “Life is Beautiful” attained global star status. 

After cutting his teeth doing standup comedy in Tuscany, Benigni when he was 20 moved to Rome where he started out in avant-garde theatre. He then segued to TV where he broke out in the Renzo Arbore show “L’altra domenica” on which he played a side-splitting film critic. He then debuted in film with “Berlinguer ti voglio bene (Berlinguer I Love You, 1977), directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci, Bernardo Bertolucci’s brother. He subsequently got notice as the protagonist of “Chiedo asilo” (“Seeking Asylum” 1979) by Marco Ferreri and of “Il minestrone” (1981) by Sergio Citti and had a cameo Bernardo Bertolucci’s “La luna” (“Luna” 1979).

Benigni then made his debut in a U.S. film in Jarmush’s “Down by Law” (1986) and played the poetic Ivo in Federico Fellini’s final work “La voce della luna” (“The Voice of the Moon” 1990), co-starring  Paolo Villaggio.

Besides “Life is Beautiful,” Benigni has helmed “Tu mi turbi” (“You Upset Me” 1983), his directorial debut, and together with Massimo Troisi co-directed the popular comedy “Non ci resta che piangere” (“Nothing Left to Do But Cry” 1984). These were the first of a series of local box office hits followed by “Il piccolo diavolo” (1988), starring Walter Matthau which is the first  movie that Benigni co-wrote with “Life is Beautiful” writer Vincenzo Cerami. 

Since 1987 Benigni has worked  in tandem with his wife, actress and producer Nicoletta Braschi, who plays the female lead in all of the movies he has directed. Braschi was the co-founder in 1991 of the company “Melampo Cinematografica” which, from then on, has produced all their films, including “Johnny Stecchino” (1991), “Il mostro” (“The Monster” 1994), “Life is Beautiful” (1997), followed by Benigni’s internationally unsuccessful “Pinocchio” adaptation in 2002, and “La tigre e la neve” (“The Tiger and the Snow” in 2005.

Benigni has from early on in his career been a presence in U.S. cinema. Besides his collaborations with Jarmusch on Down by Law” (1986), “Night on Earth” (1992) and “Coffee and Cigarettes” (2003), he also worked with Blake Edwards on “Son of the Pink Panther,” (1993) and more recently with Woody Allen in “To Rome with Love” (2012). 

Benigni toured the U.S. in 2009 with his one-man show “Tutto Dante” (Everything About Dante), in which he recites and expounds on verse from Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy.”

Barring complications the upcoming 78th Venice Film Festival is set to run as a fully physical edition Sept. 1-11.