Roberto Benigni steals the show as Venice Film Festival begins.
Roberto Benigni steals the show as Venice Film Festival begins.. Image Source: IANS News

Venice, Sep 2 : 'Life is Beautiful' actor Roberto Benigni received the lifetime achievement award at the 78th Venice International Film Festival. The legendary Italian comedian gave a mile-a-minute 'thank you' speech to cap an emotional start to the film festival.

Bong Joon-ho was emotional and Jane Campion was touching but the evening belonged to actor-director Benigni.

The 78th Venice International Film Festival got off to an emotional start on Wednesday night with host and Italian actor Serena Rossi dedicating the opening night to Afghan mothers forced to be away from their children in an attempt to save them from the Taliban. "We want to say to them: you are not alone," said Rossi.

Initially, the scene at the Sala Grande, Venice's gala theater, seemed oddly sombre, a mood that wasn't helped by images of a half-empty gallery - Covid-19 social distancing regulations meant the theatre had to operate at half capacity - and a sea of masked faces hiding the identities of the more famous members of the crowd, including Isabelle Huppert, Cynthia Erivo and Sarah Gadon.

With the face coverings, even the flamboyant Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and his muse Penelope Cruz - star of Almodovar's 'Parallel Mothers', Venice's opening night film - seemed more serious than sprightly, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

But it was clear everyone was very pleased to be back. Almodovar was here last year but few others were able to make the 2020 Venezia, which was held in-between coronavirus lockdowns in Italy. If the opening night crowd seemed quiet at first, it was likely because few really believed they were here in person at the Venice Film Festival.

Bong Joon-ho, whose film 'Parasite' won Venice in 2019, catapulting the movie to a historic best picture win at the 2020 Oscars, was visibly moved as he took the stage. Saying how grateful he was to be able to judge "the best new films in front of an audience" he noted that "Corona will be over soon but cinema will be with us forever." It was a start. Jane Campion, the first female director to win the Palme d'Or in Cannes, who returns to Venice this year with 'The Power of the Dog', her first feature film in 12 years.

Campion said Benigni's irrepressible joy - which she compared to "an exploding bottle of Prosecco" was particularly needed "at this difficult time for filmmakers and for people all over the world." Recalling his giddy response to winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 'Life is Beautiful' in 1999, when the Italian actor climbed over the backs of the seats in front of him in a clamour to get to the stage, she called the 68-year-old filmmaker "a comic genius with heart and sincerity." The 78th annual Venice International Film Festival began on September 1 and will continue till September 11 at Lido, Venice.

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho has been appointed as the President of the Jury, marking the first time a South Korean director has been picked as the Lido's top juror. Serena Rossi will be hosting the opening and closing nights.

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