The Godfather (Roberto Benigni)
Roberto Benigni was born in Turin, Italy in 1947. An actor most renowned for his role as the clown in animated musical Whitey in Disney’s animated film Whitey in Gump, Benigni went on to establish himself as a prominent member of the Italian theater scene and even received several honors for his work. His first notable film role was as Vittoria, in the Italian film La Strada (1958).
A roommate of the “Brilloletazzi” in The Godfather, Roberto Benigni also spent some time in the employ of Salieri in The Great Escape (also directed by Mario Van Eyck), appearing as an unscrupulous hit man. Following the death of his brother Piero, Benigni took over the family business, which had fallen into disrepair following the death of their mentor and friend Armandino. Using the family fortune to finance his new company, Benigni created a number of films, some of which managed to be box-office successes. One such example was Romance, or thee times of Love (libretto e one) which he wrote, directed and starred in with Dusan Cassone as his rival, Antonio.
In Benigni’s first major role, which appeared in La Strada, he plays Ferdinetti, a ruthless and ambitious Genovese businessman. Ferdinetti was the lover of a wealthy lady whose husband, Mario (Carlo Cecchi), worked as a translator for a shipping company that employed Ferdinetti and his teenage protegee, Rosa (Sonia Di Rosso), at their warehouse working on behalf of the company. Ferdinetti wanted his wealth to be secure and so sent Rosa to stay at the Villa Savoye, a luxurious summer residence that belonged to the family of the deceased Giancarlo. Rosa’s stay there spelt the beginning of what would become a complicated love triangle between the two men. Several years later, after leaving her husband and entering into marriage with Giancarlo, Rosa discovered that the bulk of the fortune had been stolen from her and placed in the safe of the vault where the family kept their money.
The subsequent events of the film are quite dramatic, as both men find themselves penniless and searching for their missing fortune. As they travel through the countryside, searching for a suitable hideout, they come across the imposing estate of Cosimo Della Mazzarella. Cosimo is the grandfather of both Mario and Rosa, and was at one point a member of the Medici family. Although he was never a member of the Mafia, he was known to keep a large sum of money in his accounts at different banks throughout Italy. As he was not accustomed to travelling with luggage, he decided to outfit the entire family in rags so as to make travelling easier.
Although Benigni plays the part of a real Italian gent, critics quickly noted that he overacted in some scenes. The film’s most memorable scene depicts Mario reclining on a large wooden puppet, being surrounded by other similarly sized men. The men proceed to sleep, but before they do, they place bets on who will fall asleep first. Naturally, as the smoke clears, they wake up to find that they have all lost weight. To add insult to injury, they discover that the wooden puppet that attacked them earlier was actually a real boy named Bruno.
The true story of Cosimo Della Mazzarella can be rather disturbing, especially if you take into account the fact that this particular story appeared in one of the most prestigious publications in Europe at the time. This film director never received the credit or respect that he deserved because of this incident. It is said that Italian directors were not consulted on this film, which meant that the movie was actually produced outside of Italy and consequently cut out some of the most disturbing scenes. Despite this, Benigni’s career remains firm, even today, with the only notable exception being his collaboration with Piero Frick in The Pianist. Regardless of these issues, Benigni has always managed to create a film that resonates with the hearts of millions.
Benigni later went on to star in the films The Godfather (Carlo Cecchi), The Man With One Red Shoe (Brunetti di Montalcino), Man on the Moon (de Luxe), and The Godfather Part II (based on the third book of the novel). Then, he continued to appear in such Hollywood films as Patton, Grease, Casino, and Bruce Almighty. As you may expect, each film has achieved extraordinary success, not to mention its cult following. Of course, some of these movies have since been remade, but no matter how many times these have been released, there is still little that can compare with the original Italian comedies of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.
No matter what side of the fence you are on regarding The Godfather, whether you think it is a great film or a bad one, the fact remains that it is an undeniable classic and must be seen by every person. In my opinion, it is one of the best foreign language films ever made, and perhaps the best Italian comedy of all time. No matter what your opinions are, I am certain that you will enjoy this beautiful film as much as I did… which was not so long ago!