Biography of Roberto Benigni

Roberto Benigni was born on October 27, 1952, in Misericordia, Italy, to Luigi and Isolina Benigni. Luigi was a carpenter, a bricklayer, and a farmer. From 1943-1945 he was a prisoner in a concentration camp. His stories later informed Roberto Benigni's most famous work, La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful), which is largely set in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

Roberto Begnini's early education occured at a French seminary, but he was forced to drop out after the school was damaged by a flood. After a brief stint in an accounting school in Prato, he moved to Rome in 1972 and entered the world of theater as an actor in experimental theater. In the 1970s, he achieved renown for participating in a scandalous TV series titled Televacca. In one of the more notorious episodes, he performed "L'inno del corpo sciolto," or "A Hymn to Defecation."

Benigni's work often has been characterized by this element of "shock value"; he famously participated in a political demonstration supporting the Italian Communist Party, where he added a distinctive amount of levity to the very formal proceedings by taking the national leader, Enrico Berlinguer, into his arms. Academy Awards viewers may also remember that when Benigni won the Academy Award for Best Actor (an unprecedented event for an actor in a foreign film), he approached the podium by jumping over the heads of his fellow attendees and, upon reaching the microphone, declared that he wanted "to make love to each and every one" of the audience members. In the 1980s, he was chastised for having referred to Pope John Paul II as a "woytilaccio" (essentially, a "badass dude").

Benigni's first work behind the camera was the 1983 film Tu Mi Turbi (You Upset Me). During the making of his film, he fell in love with actress Nicoletta Braschi, who soon became his wife and who became his co-star in Life is Beautiful.

Over the years Benigni has starred in and directed a great many films, but his greatest success was Life is Beautiful, which also won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Score (for Nicola Piovani's score). He is only the fifth actor ever to win the esteemed award for his work in a comedy, and upon exiting the stage he alerted everyone backstage to the fact that he was so happy "that every organ in my body is moving in a very bad way!"

Benigni is also a celebrated singer and songwriter as well as a well-known poet. He is widely lauded as an example of the Italian dramatic genre known as the commedia della arte, or "improvised repartee," and is likewise a master of the lazzi, or "humorous interruption." Benigni is renowned for his extraordinary comedic work, but his lighthearted persona is, to those who know him, simply a useful tool employed to remarkable effect by a truly brilliant artist.

Study Guides on Works by Roberto Benigni

After World War I, Italy was in a state of turmoil. Political groups such as communists and anarchists were vying for attention and sway, and King Victor Emmanuel III was losing control over his country. Angry, bitter soldiers had returned to a...