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Convocation 2015: Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi receive honorary degrees from U of T

Award-winning actors and filmmakers Nicoletta Braschi and Roberto Benigni have received worldwide acclaim for their work

The University of Toronto is recognizing internationally renowned filmmakers Nicoletta Braschi and Roberto Benigni with honorary degrees.

The couple received the honours at convocation ceremonies June 3 for students from the University of Toronto Mississauga who were graduating with Bachelor of Arts and Honours Bachelor of Arts degrees.

A highly-accomplished Italian filmmaker, actor and writer, Benigni has starred in several Italian, English and French films. Born near Arezzo, Tuscany, in October 1952, he began work as a theatre actor in Prato, Italy, in the early 1970s. Soon after, he moved to Rome to further his career and found success in theatre and television. He starred in his first film Berlinguer ti voglio bene (Berlinguer I Love You) in 1977.

Benigni met his future collaborator and wife, Braschi, in the 1980s, and cast her in a small role in his directorial debut Tu mi turbi (You Upset Me, 1983). Huge success followed with Non ci resta che piangere (Nothing Left to Do But Cry, 1984), a film he co-directed with comedic genius, Massimo Troisi. In the mid-80s, Benigni met American director Jim Jarmusch at a film festival in Italy. Jarmusch cast Benigni and Braschi in the now-cult-classic Down By Law (1986).

In his home country, Benigni rose to fame, as both director and actor in films such as Il piccolo diavolo (The Little Devil, 1988), La voce della luna (The Voice of the Moon, 1989; director Federico Fellini’s last film), Johnny Stecchino (Johnny Toothpick, 1991), and Il mostro (The Monster, 1994). Benigni also went on to have a very successful theatre show called Tutto Benigni. 

In 1997, Benigni gained worldwide acclaim for his film La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful). The film became the most successful Italian film of all time and the most successful non-English film ever. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Benigni winning the award for Best Actor – the first for a male performer in a non-English-speaking role, and only the third overall acting Oscar for non-English-speaking roles – and two other awards for Best Foreign Language Film (which Benigni accepted as the film’s director), and Best Original Dramatic Score.

In 2002, he gave a typically energetic and revealing interview to Canadian filmmaker Damian Pettigrew for Fellini: I’m a Born Liar, a cinematic portrait of the maestro that was nominated for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards (Europe’s equivalent of the Oscars). The film won the prestigious Rockie Award for Best Arts Documentary at the Banff World Television Festival (2002).  His latest film as director is La tigre e la neve (The Tiger and the Snow, 2005), a love story set during the initial stage of the Iraq War. His last film as actor is Woody Allen’s 2012 picture, To Rome with Love.

In the early 2000s, Benigni began to share with the world his love of Dante Alighieri’s La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy) by reciting passages from the epic comedy as he toured internationally. His contribution to performative arts earned Benigni a nomination for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.

In addition to Benigni’s Oscar wins and Nobel Prize nomination, the actor, director and writer also boasts a long list of honours.  Benigni has been awarded numerous Silver Ribbons, David di Donatello Awards, and the Grand Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1999, he received a star on the Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, 
California, Walk of Stars, and in 2003 was honoured by the National Italian American Foundation, receiving the Foundation’s Special Achievement Award in Entertainment.

In December 2014, Benigni enchanted over 10 million viewers with his performance in the Italian television special The Ten Commandments; the one-man show was a huge success. 


Nicoletta Braschi

Born in Cesena, Emilia-Romagna, Braschi studied at Rome’s Academy of Dramatic Arts. A highly-successful Italian actress and producer, Braschi boasts an extensive filmography. Her cinematic debut was alongside her husband, actor and director Benigni, in Tu mi turbi (You Upset Me, 1983). She later appeared in two Jim Jarmusch films, Down by Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989). 

Braschi has had several successful film collaborations with her husband, including Johnny Stecchino (1991), Il mostro (1994), and La vita è bella (1997). For her role as Dora Orefice in the latter, Braschi received a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild award.

She has worked with a number of other esteemed Italian directors on their films: Giuseppe Bertolucci’s Segreti segreti (Secrets Secrets, 1984) and La domenica specialmente (Especially on Sunday, 1991), and Marco Ferreri’s Come sono buoni i bianchi (How Good the Whites Are, 1988), with co-stars Michel Piccoli and Michele Placido. Braschi was also chosen by Bernardo Bertolucci to be a part of Il tè nel deserto (The Sheltering Sky, 1990). 

Her filmography includes roles in Blake Edwards’ Il figlio della Pantera Rosa (The Son of the Pink Panther, 1993), Sostiene Pereira (According to Pereira, 1995, starring the iconic Marcello Mastroianni), Marco Tullio Giordana’s Pasolini – un delitto italiano (Pasolini: An Italian Crime, 1995), and Francesca Comencini’s Mi piace lavorare – Mobbing (I Love to Work - Mobbing, 2005).

In 1997, Braschi’s performance in Paolo Virzi’s Ovosodo earned her much praise from critics and audiences alike. A year later, she was awarded the David di Donatello Award, as Best Supporting Actress, for her role in this film.

In 2002, she became a member of the jury at the Berlin Film Festival. That same year, she produced and starred in another film, Pinocchio, and again took on both roles, in 2005, for La tigre e la neve (The Tiger and the Snow). Since 2010, she has taken to the stage in the Italian tours of Tradimenti (based on Harold Pinter’s Betrayal).

In 2011, Braschi and her husband were the honoured guests of the Mostra Bob e Nico – a summer-long cinema event dedicated solely to the couple and their accomplishments. The event was sponsored by Cineteca di Bologna, amongst others, with proceeds from the event supporting the Istituto per lo Studio e la cura dei Tumori (IRST), a well-known cancer research institute located in Meldola, near Forlì, Italy.

Convocation ceremonies at U of T will run until June 19 at the downtown campus. More than 13,000 students are expected to graduate and more than 44,000 visitors are expected to join in the celebrations.