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Legendary screenwriter Cerami dies

'Taught me how to make hearts beat faster' says Benigni

Legendary screenwriter Cerami dies

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, July 17 - Legendary Italian screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami, a student of director Pier Paolo Pasolini who went on to worldwide success with Roberto Benigni, died in Rome Wednesday aged 72. Cerami, a Roman of Sicilian descent, co-wrote Benigni's 1999 Oscar winner Life Is Beautiful and was nominated for the screenwriting award that year. Benigni led the tributes, saying: "Vincenzo Cerami was a writer, rugby player, screenwriter, unequalled twist dancer, poet. He taught me how to make people's hearts beat faster. "How beautiful it was to be his friend. What a gift! Thank you Vincenzo for yourself and your beautiful smile". Cerami was heavily influenced by Pasolini from his encounter with the future poet, writer and filmmaker when he taught at Cerami's middle school on the outskirts of Rome, to his first steps in the Italian film world, when he followed Pasolini round the set of Uccellacci e Uccellini (Sparrows and Hawks, 1966). He once said of the Italian cinema great, a champion of the disinherited who was murdered in 1976 leaving a legacy including Accattone, Mamma Roma, Teorema and Salò: "I owe everything to Pasolini, and without him I wouldn't have been able to look at the world with pity and severity combined. What I will always miss of Pier Paolo was his inestimable gift of seeing life as great collective poetry". Cerami's own poetic vision found its fullest expression in the luminescent screenplays he wrote with the madcap, visionary and humanist Tuscan comic Benigni. In all, he co-authored seven Benigni works, including Il Mostro (The Monster, 1994), Pinocchio (2005) and La Tigre e La Neve (The Tiger And The Snow, 2005). But their crowning achievement was Life Is Beautiful, where they dared to inform a Holocaust movie with sprightly and graceful humour, humanity and hope. The film, which came out in 1997 before it won Oscars for best actor, director and score two years later, regularly tops polls of all-time favourite movies. Cerami's rise to a place in cinema history was not planned. While he was still Pasolini's middle-school student he was equally taken with sport, especially rugby where he made the all-Italy junior team and was banking on a professional career before a shoulder injury ended his hopes. What was sport's loss was cinema's gain. But after learning the ropes with his mentor Pasolini, Cerami's own efforts behind the camera faltered, so he turned to his secret love, writing - poems, screenplays, and, crucially, a debut novel in 1976 that became a huge hit and was turned into a memorable film directed by the great Mario Monicelli and starring Italian screen legend Alberto Sordi. Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo (An Average Little Man) launched Cerami onto the Rome literary and cultural scene, where he would eventually become friends of such lions as novelist Alberto Moravia, director Federico Fellini, actor and director Massimo Troisi and iconic actor Totò, who had a cameo in Uccellacci and Uccellini. The 1977 film offered comic genius Sordi one of his most serious roles, as a symbol of a troubled Italian society coming to terms with social unrest and terrorism. His portrayal of a petit bourgeois who takes the law into his own hands after his son is killed in an armed robbery won numerous awards. Cerami went on to work with members of Pasolini's circle like Sergio Citti' before making his mark with Colpire Al Cuore (A Blow To The Heart), a family tragedy involving terrorism directed by Gianni Amelio in 1983. Five years later Cerami teamed up with Benigni, then a relatively little-known Tuscan comedian with a cult TV following, for Il Piccolo Diavolo (1988). It was a marriage made in heaven, with Benigni's exuberant improvisation, comic timing and oddball vision of life wed to Cerami's literary inventiveness, sometimes surreal imagination and socially committed understanding of what makes people tick - an engagement with society, born of his working-class roots, that would later translate into a short political career as shadow culture minister for the centre-left Democratic Party. Last month, accepting a David di Donatello lifetime achievement award for his ailing friend and creative partner, Benigni told an audience at the Italian equivalent of the Oscars: "Vincenzo taught me so many things, above all that only amateurs wait for inspiration, while the others roll back their sleeves and get cracking. "He was so precise in everything he did, and precision is a quality that belongs to the great visionaries. "He was someone who opened his heart to all life's riddles, to its flowering mysteries". Former PD leader Walter Veltroni, who named Cerami to his 2007-2008 shadow cabinet, said Wednesday: "His books, the films he wrote, and his generous passion made him one of the most significant intellectuals of the recent past". Recalling his teen studies with Pasolini, Veltroni added: "From that extraordinary experience as a young lad, he retained a curiosity, desire to know and empathy with people, and his commitment turned all this into extraordinary writing, an acute and never banal view that made him one of Italy's best screenwriters. Of Cerami's time in the cabinet opposed to media tycoon-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi, Veltroni said: "It was a job he wasn't used to but which he took on with an enthusiasm and passion full of ideas, demolishing the rather stale image of the political functionary". Cerami, who was reported to be working on a new book with Mondadori, is survived by long-time former partner Mimsy Farmer and their actress daughter Aisha; and later wife Graziella Chiecossi with whom he had a son, Matteo, a budding director.

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