The Italian Almanac

Roberto Benigni


An independent US film inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy and featuring Italian comic and actor Roberto Benigni will premiere at the Venice Film Festival next month, the festival press office said. 'La Commedia di Amos Poe', by Tel Aviv-born indie pioneer Amos Poe, will be shown out of competition at midnight on Friday September 3.

Poe, a protagonist of the so-called No Wave Cinema movement, has wrapped La Commedia just in time for the premiere. Benigni, who won an Oscar for Life Is Beautiful in 1999, is a Dante aficionado and populariser and wowed audiences worldwide last year with his TuttoDante tour. The madcap Tuscan comic is no stranger to American indie films, making memorable cameos in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law (1986) and Coffee and Cigarettes (2003).

Poe's film features a new translation of the Divine Comedy as well as the voice of Italian theatrical giant Carmelo Bene, who died in 2002. Benigni reads Paradiso while the other two cantos of Dante's work are read by two Italian theatre actors, Alfonso Santagata (Inferno) and Sando Lombardi (Purgatorio). According to prerelease info the flick aims to "channel the tools" of photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge, acclaimed for his stop-motion work on horses, to produce "a meditation on the perception of motion in a motion picture".

In the film, Poe himself meets Dante in the middle of the mid-life crisis the poet described at the start of Inferno. Loretta Mugnai is the "metaphorical" embodiment of Dante's muse Beatrice. Made up of 20,000 short takes divided into three longer sections, like the Comedy, Poe shows himself in cinema verite' style in self-imposed exile in France and Italy, most often in Florence.

Poe, 60, a veteran of the punk and underground scene, said the film combines "the fascination exerted by the Comedy and the rediscovery of the origins of film as a flow of images in motion and poetry". Poe's fans have contributed their own takes on the film via Facebook, Youtube and Kickstarter. These are woven into the narrative. The soundtrack features Debbie Harry, Decay of Angels, Hayley Moss, Peter Gordon, Muchael Duclos, Brenda Elthon, Paraphilia, Dave Mitchell, Riccardo Moretti and Andres Nazrala.