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Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 13:08 GMT


Telling the Holocaust story

Roberto Benigni directed the Oscar winning foreign language film Life is Beautiful and also scooped best actor for his on-screen role in it.

He told BBC World's HARDtalk last week that he "stole" the film's idea from his father.

The Italian black comedy, which was also co-written by Benigni, was inspired by the two years his father spent in a Nazi labour camp and the way he explained the events to his children.

[ image: Benigni likes playing the clown]
Benigni likes playing the clown
"When he came back he was a skeleton, was a dead man, but I must say it was the need to tell the story."

His father was able to talk about the horrors of the holocaust in a positive way, to make Roberto and his sisters understand that it was good to be alive.

"The attitude to tell the story, wasn't just telling you, it's a nightmare but remember life is good," said Mr Benigni. "I stole from him the attitude, the way to life, to tell the story, his style.

International recognition

The film is about a father who tries to shield his small son from the horrors of a Nazi death camp. He uses humour and pretends to his son that it is part of an elaborate game.

it has scooped three academy awards in Hollywood, after being nominated for seven in total. As well as winning best actor and best foreign film - it also won an award for best dramatic score.

It has also become North America's highest-grossing foreign language film.

Benigni: "Sorrow belongs to clowns very deeply"
Some have criticised Roberto Benigni for making a comedy about the Holocaust. But he defended the film as "absolutely a tragedy."

"First time a comedian is making a movie about the holocaust, about this horror, it's dangerous," he said.

"I was worried about not being offensive or to hurt the sensitivity of survivors, yes of course, needless to say, needless to say, but ... sorrow belongs to clowns very deeply.

"The more is funny the movie, the more is tragic."

Roberto Benigni said he thought the film had helped him understand something of what it was like to be an Italian Jew during wartime fascist Italy.

Benigni: "The more is funny the movie, the more is tragic"
"When you read about the Holocaust you are not the same man the day before," he said. "I was a different man because Holocaust belong to everybody, it's a part of our history and so deeply.

"My movie is a tragedy, absolutely a tragedy. Because that's life, it can happen, a tragedy, it can happen to everybody."

Meeting the Pope

Roberto Benigni also spoke about his surprise and joy when the Pope asked for a special showing of Life is Beautiful.

"I thought it was a joke, can you imagine?," he said. "I live 20 metres from the Vatican and they called me when I was in Los Angeles, so I thought it was a joke.

"I flew 14 hours from Los Angeles to Rome, but with pleasure because it's unique, very rare, the Pope watching a movie. It's really strange."

Benigni: "I jumped on his face and everywhere"
The film was shown in a church with the Pope, five cardinals and 10 nuns. Mr Benigni said he watched the Pope's face throughout the film to see his reaction. But he refused to repeat the Pope's words, out of respect.

"I can say that he loved the movie very much," said Mr Benigni. "I was full of enthusiasm and nervous and I jumped on his face and everywhere.

Benigni: "To be a clown, for me, is the most wonderful thing in the world"
"I kissed him a lot because, just to demonstrate my gratitude because I really admire him very much."

When Roberto Benigni won an award at the Cannes Film Festival he kissed director Martin Scorsese's feet

He said: "Of course, they gave me such a wonderful prize so I have to demonstrate my gratitude to return this love.

"And I like to manifest my enthusiasm, to be exuberant, to be captured by joy, transported by joy."

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