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A refreshing breath of life was administered to the Academy Awards on Sunday night, straight from the lips of Roberto Benigni.
For years, the telecast has been labeled as four hours of boring monotony broken by golden moments which are few and far between. Recently, certain celebrities have not allowed the stagnant atmosphere of the Oscars to contain their happiness. Cuba Gooding Jr. and friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck delivered their winning speeches with unbridled enthusiasm, uncharacteristic of Academy protocol.
However, their actions were most often attributed to their youth and newly found star-status in other words, they hadn't yet learned how to conduct themselves properly. Sure enough, in years following, Gooding Jr., Damon and Affleck were all on hand to present awards and did so in the traditional controlled and stoic manner.
When Benigni broke onto the North American scene with the Italian film Life is Beautiful, he was labelled as Europe's answer to Robin Williams. However, there is a major difference between the way Williams acts and the way Benigni conducted himself at the Academy Awards. The antics which accompany any of Williams' public appearances seem to be part of an act a manifestation of his innate need to perform. Benigni's behaviour on Sunday night stemmed from the heart. It was a manifestation of the value of these awards, experienced by someone completely unjaded by Hollywood.
He stood on chairs, clamored over actors and kissed everything in sight. His words were hidden by a thick Italian accent but there was no questioning what was being said. When cameras panned the audience, Benigni stood out in a mannequin-like crowd, always on the edge of his seat with a huge goofy grin, not wanting to miss a thing. He broke any language barrier with his body language, which screamed of genuine happiness and honour. Anyone who witnessed it knew beyond a doubt his reaction was spontaneous and driven by irrepressible emotion.
To see Benigni accept his awards for best actor and best foreign-language film was a delight and a privilege. It was a clear reminder of what this honour means to someone who hasn't grown up consumed by the materialism of the Hollywood film industry.