The last time I saw Roberto Benigni, he said he wanted to make love to me. To be fair, he wanted to make love to everybody watching the 1999 Academy Awards after he’d won his second Oscar of the night for Life is Beautiful. But since that night, when the Italian Chaplin was officially crowned by Hollywood, his profile has retreated. His directorial follow-up, 2002’s Pinocchio, was an expensive flop that bombed completely on this side of the Atlantic. He appeared briefly in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes in 2003, and he hasn’t starred in any film since 2005’s Iraq War film, The Tiger and The Snow. For the most part, the only thing Americans recall about him now is his Oscar-winning antics, when he made his offer of amore and celebrated his victory by dancing on the seats and shoulders of the people seated in front of him.
Some people were put off by Benigni’s excessive display of enthusiasm, and some others later called into question both his spontaneity and his charmingly broken English. But 12 years later, Benigni finally might be getting a second chance with American audiences, now that Woody Allen is reportedly keen on directing him in his new Rome-based project, Bop Decameron. The two auteurs seem to be kindred spirits, and though neither will ever be the star they once were, it will be fascinating to see what type of character Allen writes for Benigni. Will he play against type or let Benigni be Benigni?
Check out Benigni’s crowning moment below: