‘Life is Beautiful’ actor Roberto Benigni received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 78th Venice International Film Festival. The legendary Italian comedian delivered a mile-a-minute thank you speech to cap off the emotional start of the film festival.
Bong Joon-ho was emotional and Jane Campion was touching, but the evening belonged to actor and director Benigni.
The 78th Venice International Film Festival got off to an emotional start Wednesday night with Italian presenter and actress Serena Rossi dedicating opening night to Afghan mothers forced to be away from their children in a bid to save them from the Taliban. . “We want to tell them: they are not alone,” Rossi said.
Initially, the scene in the Sala Grande, Venice’s gala theater, seemed strangely gloomy, a mood that was not helped by images of a half-empty gallery (Covid-19 social distancing regulations meant that the theater had to operate at half capacity) and a sea of masked faces hiding the identities of the most famous members of the crowd, including Isabelle Huppert, Cynthia Erivo and Sarah Gadon.
With their faces covered, even flamboyant Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and his muse Penélope Cruz, star of Almodóvar’s ‘Parallel Mothers’, the Venice opening night movie, looked more serious than animated, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
But it was clear that everyone was very happy to be back. Almodóvar was here last year, but few others were able to do Venice 2020, which took place between coronavirus shutdowns in Italy. If the opening night crowd seemed calm at first, it was probably because few really believed they were here in person at the Venice Film Festival.
Bong Joon-ho, whose film ‘Parasite’ won Venice in 2019, catapulting the film to a historic best picture win at the 2020 Oscars, was visibly moved when he took the stage. Saying how grateful he was to be able to judge “the best new films in front of an audience,” he noted that “Corona will end soon, but cinema will be with us forever.”
It was a start. Jane Campion, the first director to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, who returns to Venice this year with ‘The Power of the Dog’, her first feature film in 12 years.
Campion said Benigni’s irrepressible joy, which he likened to “an exploding bottle of Prosecco,” was particularly needed “at this difficult time for filmmakers and for people around the world.” Recalling his dizzying response to winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for ‘Life is Beautiful’ in 1999, when the Italian actor climbed onto the backs of the seats in front of him in a clamor to get on stage, he called 68 one-year filmmaker “a comic book genius with heart and sincerity.”
The 78th Venice International Film Festival started on September 1 and will continue until September 11 in Lido, Venice.
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho has been appointed chairman of the jury, marking the first time that a South Korean director has been chosen as the main jury for the Lido. Serena Rossi will host the opening and closing nights.
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