The actor mersmerised the guests at the historic Jesuits Church.
Benigni smiled, as he started answering Maltese journalists’ questions. He then explained a medieval-style fantastical plan to march into Italy with an international army, to ‘re-conquer’ the country from Berlusconi’s rule. His ‘plan’ included gathering Maltese Knights, and historic warriors from other European cultures, and to ask Maltese Prime Minister Dr Gonzi for weapons and money. Ironically, both the Maltese President and the Prime Minister stand on the same side of the political spectrum as Berlusconi!
Save me from Berlusconi, Benigni asks Fenech Adami
In a packed church in Valletta, an Italian man kneeled before Maltese President Dr Edward Fenech Adami, begging him to help him as he does not want to return to Italy under the new Prime Minister Berlusconi.
Had the man not been Roberto Benigni, the Italian Oscar-winning director and actor, such a move would have sparked a major diplomatic incident. But for the Italian legendary artist of ‘La Vita e’ Bella’ fame, every word becomes a work of art. The actor mersmerised the guests at the historic Jesuits Church, as he delivered his acceptance speech on receiving an honoris causa doctorate degree from the University of Malta.
Benigni, who soared to international fame with his cinematic masterpiece ‘La Vita e’ Bella’ (1997), is in Malta on a three day visit, and will be delighting Malta with a ‘Serata Dantesca’, a public recital of Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, on Wednesday at 1830hrs on campus. Inside the university theatre, only students and the university’s academic staff will be allowed, but outside the hall, at the university’s main quadrangle, the public will be able to follow Benigni’s performance through a live transmission on a maxi screen.
On Wednesday, Benigni will be sharing the stage with Professor Robert Hollander, who published over 12 books on Dante. The Professor was also entrusted with a new translation of Paradiso, published in 2007.
A plan to re-conquer Italy!
Earlier in the day, Benigni thrilled Maltese journalists with a breathtaking press conference, describing Malta as a “vecchia appena nata” and letting loose his imagination describing a fantastical plot on how to gather an army to re-conquer Italy.
Last week’s general elections are still fresh in Benigni’s mind. In the run up to the polls he openly supported the Partito Democratico (PD) of Walter Veltroni, the main contender of the newly elected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. “I am not here to seek political asylum,” Benigni smiled, as he started answering Maltese journalists’ questions. He then explained a medieval-style fantastical plan to march into Italy with an international army, to ‘re-conquer’ the country from Berlusconi’s rule. His ‘plan’ included gathering Maltese knights, and historic warriors from other European cultures, and to ask Maltese Prime Minister Dr Gonzi for weapons and money.
Ironically, both the Maltese President and the Prime Minister stand on the same side of the political spectrum as Berlusconi!
“Vecchia appena nata”
Malta is like “una vecchia appena nata” [an old newborn], said Benigni, hailing the country’s rich history intertwined with its vibrant culture. This is his first time on the island, but he was impressed, he told journalists. “When I was told I will be receiving a degree from Malta, I was so happy I jumped on the table and did cartwheels on the lawn.” He even toyed with the possibility of using Malta for one of his films. “I am currently looking for a story for my next film… maybe it will include Malta.”
When a journalist asked him if he ever has moments of sadness and tears, he smiled, asked her name, and wittily commented, “What a beautiful name, it almost brings tears to my eyes.” He admitted that many comedians are said to have a very melancholic private life. He recalled an actor telling him he dreaded going to dinner with Charles Chaplain as he was so sad! “I tried to be sad in order to be like the great comedians, but I never managed,” he quipped.
He described life as a journey of constant change, where everyone follows a path, a dream, “and the desire to desire life.”
Dante is ahead of us…
In recent months, Benigni’s popularity in Italy escalated with the television programme ‘Tutto Dante’ on RAI, the Italian national broadcaster. The programmes reached unexpected popularity levels, with viewership exceeding 12 million. The climax of the events is when Benigni superbly recites whole ‘cantos’ of Dante’s Divina Commedia by heart.
Commenting on this achievement, Benigni refused to admit that he is doing any effort to spread literature among the people. “I do not want to acculturate the people. I go before the people to do what I love doing, just like a child who discovers something beautiful and wants to tell everyone about it. Wherever I went, I went to learn more on Dante’s words from those I meet. I keep learning everyday.”
“The love for Dante’s works is like a fire that keeps me warm… we do not have to look back to understand Dante’s works… he is ahead of us… the first and greatest modern poets… a visionary… when you read Dante you get the urge to make love to the book.” Benigni explains that Dante’s ‘La Commedia’ is like an encyclopedia, almost like the Internet, as it deals with everything, with every aspect of life.”
Asked on the possibility of making a film out of the Divina Commedia, Benigni said it is almost impossible. Even Federico Fellini wished to do a film on Dante’s work, Benigni said as he recalled his friendship with the renowned film director. But they both agreed that the Commedia is perfect in its own right, and when a creation is perfect it is difficult to successfully translate it into another medium. “It is like trying to speak in rhyme.”
Benigni has been studying the Divina Commedia, and its interpretation, for years. His first recital was in 1990 at the University of Siena. During the last years he started the recitals in Italian squares, reviving the forgotten Tuscan tradition of reciting literature by heart in public. Even illiterate farmers used to perform some of the Commedia’s ‘canti’.
But Benigni goes a step further. Before the recitals, he starts off with commentaries linking Dante’s works to contemporary themes. “He managed to give the Commedia modern relevance, and he did it in an extraordinary way,” explained Professor Dominic Fenech, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and Dr Gloria Lauri Lucente, the Deputy Dean of the same faculty, when announcing Benigni’s visit to Malta, a few weeks ago. Dr Lauri Lucente and Professor Fenech organised Benigni’s visit to Malta on behalf of the university’s Faculty of Arts.