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Whatever Happened To The Cast Of Life Is Beautiful?

Behind only "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as the highest-grossing foreign film ever released in the United States (via RTT News), "Life is Beautiful" is built on a premise that doesn't seem like it should work at all: a feel-good family dramedy that takes place during the Holocaust. Yet writer-director-star Roberto Benigni manages just the right balance of presenting the horrors of Nazi concentration camps during World War II while also telling an uplifting story about the triumph of the human spirit. 

Benigni and his co-writer, Vincenzo Cerami, deliberately gloss over the full extent of the horrors of those camps in real life in service of telling a tale that would have been nigh-impossible otherwise. But as the movie is largely about a father hiding the truth of the situation from his son, it makes sense that we as the audience see a watered-down version of what went on in the camps — as it echoes the reality that has been constructed for the child.

Benigni became a worldwide star for a time after the success of "Life is Beautiful" and his subsequent Best Actor Oscar win for the film. He and much of the cast have continued to work steadily since its release, with the exception of a couple of actors who passed away a few years after. While much of the cast continued to work largely in European cinema, a few would use the international success of "Life is Beautiful" to break into Hollywood and appear in a few well-known and award-winning American films. 

Richard Sammel

One of the only SS field officers to have any significant screen time in "Life is Beautiful" is the German lieutenant in the train station scene. He is played by German actor Richard Sammel, one of only a few cast members in "Life is Beautiful" for which the movie isn't his most well-known role. In fact, there are arguably two projects that he is better-known for — at least to English-speaking audiences — than his appearance in "Life is Beautiful."

Perhaps because of his commanding presence in "Life is Beautiful," Sammel was cast in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" over a decade later, once again playing a Nazi military officer. Still, for most American viewers, Sammel is likely most associated with being in the main cast of the FX series "The Strain" throughout its entire run from 2014 to 2017. His character was named Thomas Eichhorst, and Sammel was even nominated for a Saturn Award in 2015 for his performance on the show (via Entertainment Weekly). Most recently, Sammel portrayed Prince Philip in the 2021 Princess Diana biopic "Spencer." 

Nicoletta Braschi

The opening scenes of "Life is Beautiful" see protagonist Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) arriving in Tuscany to work for his uncle. It's also where we see him meet Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), woo her, and eventually marry and have a child with her. The two become separated when they are all taken to the camps, and remain so for much of the film — with Guido having to come up with clever ways to send messages to Dora to let her know that he and their child are still alive.

Braschi is actually the real-life wife of Roberto Benigni, married since 1991 and still together to this day. She had already appeared in previous Benigni films before "Life is Beautiful" and has continued to do so — including his 2002 adaptation of "Pinocchio," where she played a fairy, and in 2005's "The Tiger and the Snow," where she portrayed his love interest again. But Braschi has also had a career outside of her husband's films, including a lead role in 2018's acclaimed "Happy as Lazzaro," which won Best Screenplay at Cannes that year and scored an impressive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes

Horst Buchholz

There is no shortage of objectively bad people in "Life is Beautiful," but Dr. Lessing is a definite contender for the absolute worst. He is tasked with determining if a prisoner is unable to work due to poor health, and sending them to be executed instead. Even so, Guido and Dr. Lessing end up bonding over their shared love of riddles — it's in Guido's best interest to get on the good side of people in positions of power within the camp, but still, he seems to have a genuine affection for Lessing.

It helps that Dr. Lessing is played by veteran German actor Horst Buchholz, whose charisma and screen presence led him to sometimes be known as "the German James Dean" (per the New York Times). He had a long career before appearing in "Life is Beautiful," not only in his native Europe but also in Hollywood — including scoring a coveted spot as one of the titular seven (Chico) in the classic Western "The Magnificent Seven." Buccholz sadly passed away in 2003 (via BBC), but worked right up until the end of his life, with his final English-speaking role being the 2001 action thriller "The Enemy" alongside fellow legend Roger Moore. 

Pietro De Silva

While Guido is surrounded by many fellow prisoners throughout "Life is Beautiful," there are a few he ends up befriending who play a larger role in the movie than most. One of those is Bartolomeo (Pietro De Silva), who becomes one of Guido's biggest allies — particularly in helping to keep Guido's son, Giosuè, hidden from the officers. We unfortunately don't get any closure about what happens to Bartolomeo, as his final fate isn't shown in the film, but at least that lets us assume he made it out okay.

De Silva is an extremely prolific actor, not only plenty busy before "Life is Beautiful" but especially since: he has racked up over 100 screen credits since 1997. His work has been almost entirely in Italian films and TV series, with "Life is Beautiful" being his only major international exposure. In 2014, he dabbled in directing when he helmed the short "Il ladro di dita," though he has yet to step back into the director's chair. His most recent film saw him return to World War II for "La macchina delle immagini di Alfredo C.", playing the lead in a story about a photographer who gets stuck in Albania when the Communist Party seizes the country. 

Giorgio Cantarini

While Guido is the main character of "Life is Beautiful," the film revolves around his son, Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini). Guido wants to protect Giosuè from the horrific reality they're facing, so he constructs a fantasy for the boy in which they were merely playing an elaborate game. Giosuè is told that things like successfully hiding from the guards will earn him bonus points, while crying or calling for his mom will cost him points. Guido is able to keep Giosuè "in" the game all the way up until Giosuè is set free and believes he has won a tank as part of his prize. 

Remarkably only five years old when "Life is Beautiful" was released, Cantarini's performance is all the more impressive given his age at the time and the heaviness of the material. He followed up "Life is Beautiful" with another Oscar-winning movie, "Gladiator," three years later. He'd only make three more movies between 2001 and 2008 before moving on to mostly shorts and documentary work in the 2010s. However, he now has his sights on a return to major motion pictures, and is set to appear in the upcoming biopic "Lamborghini" alongside Mira Sorvino and Gabriel Byrne (per Deadline). 

Giuliana Lojodice

During the pre-camp portion of "Life is Beautiful," we learn that Dora is a teacher, and some of Guido's earliest schemes involve him coming up with ways to infiltrate the school and woo Dora. The headmistress of the school doesn't have a huge part in the film, but she does instruct Guido — whom she believes is an inspector because, again, Guido is always scheming — to inform the students of the new manifesto that states the supposed superiority of the "Aryan race." It serves as one of the first hints of where the movie is headed and how it's not going to be a typical cute rom-com.

The headmistress is also worth mentioning because she's played by Giuliana Lojodice, yet another veteran actor within the cast of "Life is Beautiful." Lojodice made her film debut in none other than "La Dolce Vita," commonly regarded as one of the greatest Italian films ever made. She remained busy in both film and on television throughout the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, though her output slowed down a bit in the new millennium. Still, even into her 80s, Lojodice continues to act and most recently appeared in the 2022 film "I cassamortari." 

Omero Antonutti

Though he never physically appears in the film — hence the lack of an image of him from the movie — Omero Antonutti was still an incredibly important element in "Life is Beautiful." Antonutti serves as the movie's narrator (though uncredited), and it's a job he's perfectly suited for, as he's had a long history of using only his distinctive voice in projects. While he has appeared onscreen in a number of movies and television shows, Antonutti is best known for doing the Italian dubbing for many major Hollywood productions.

Antonutti was most frequently the Italian voice actor for Christopher Lee, notably dubbing Saruman's dialogue in all three "The Lord of the Rings" films as well as Count Dooku in "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith." Among the other major actors that he dubbed for in multiple films are Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Christopher Plummer, and James Cromwell (via AntonioGenna.net). That said, he did have a few memorable onscreen roles — including parts in the acclaimed Spanish film "El Sur" and Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna." His final film, "Hammamet," was released posthumously in 2020, a year after his death at age 84. 

Sergio Bustric

Ferruccio (Sergio Bustric) is the token best buddy character to the main protagonist in "Life is Beautiful." He helps Guido in his various schemes to woo Dora, and without Ferruccio's help, Guido wouldn't be able to pull off half of what he gets away with. Ferruccio is such a good pal, in fact, that he doesn't even get mad at Guido when Guido wrecks his car. While Ferruccio doesn't follow the movie into the concentration camp portion, the lessons in confidence that he had previously taught Guido definitely continue to guide Guido throughout.

Bustric has had a fairly steady but not particularly busy acting career, at least not compared to many of his "Life is Beautiful" castmates. He only has a half dozen or so screen credits before that film and 20 or so since, most of which are Italian films and television. However, he has had a couple of noteworthy English movie and TV appearances, including Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" in 2012, and the 2019 Hulu miniseries "Catch-22," an adaptation of the classic novel of the same name. 

Marisa Paredes

As in so many love stories where a woman of a certain social standing is being wooed by a man that society deems to be unworthy of her, Guido has a few disapproving obstacles in his path while trying to win over Dora. One of them is Dora's mother, who seems to be something of a socialite. She's also likely the main reason why Dora had previously been set to marry someone so personally wrong for her — but someone who would provide her with financial and social stability.

Though Dora's mother is never actually named in "Life is Beautiful," the actor who played her is anything but anonymous. One of the few members of the core cast that wasn't Italian or German, actor Marisa Paredes is a native of Spain who has largely done Spanish and English films. Two years after "Life is Beautiful," she would appear in "All About My Mother," the first of two films she'd do with famed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. In 2001, she worked with another acclaimed Latino filmmaker when she played a role in Guillermo Del Toro's "The Devil's Backbone." She's slowed down significantly in the last 15 years or so, but was still active as of 2018, when she appeared in the Spanish film "Petra." 

Giustino Durano

What initially sets the events of "Life is Beautiful" in motion — and brings Guido and Dora into each other's orbit — is when Guido moves to Tuscany to work for his uncle Eliseo's hotel restaurant. Sadly, Eliseo perishes in a gas chamber shortly after he, Guido, Dora, and Giosuè first arrive at the concentration camp. 

The actor playing Eliseo, Giustino Durano, had one of the longest careers out of anyone in the cast of "Life is Beautiful." He appeared in movies as early as the mid-1950s, mostly in Italian films at first, though he did pop up in a few English movies in the 1960s. For instance, Durano played a small role in 1966's "After the Fox," written by famed American playwright Neil Simon and starring legendary comedic actor Peter Sellers. As for his post-"Life is Beautiful" career, Durano was already in his 70s by that time and would only live until 2002. He only appeared in a few more Italian films between "Life is Beautiful" and his death, including one — "Andata e ritorno" — that wasn't released until the following year.

Amerigo Fontani

It's already been alluded to that Dora isn't exactly single when Guido first begins his flirtation with her. Well, the man with whom she's already involved and set to be betrothed is Rodolfo (Amerigo Fontani), who plays the token "wrong guy for the female lead" character in "Life is Beautiful" that pretty much every movie love story has. As such, the film does everything in its power to reinforce just how wrong he is for Dora, up to and including making you question whether he even actually likes her in the first place. Luckily, he ends up with literal egg on his face, and Dora is soon giving her affection to the right guy (Guido) instead.

Fontani had only done television prior to "Life is Beautiful," but used the clout from that film to land a few more movie roles in the 2000s and 2010s. However, his focus has still mostly been on Italian television, most notably in a four-episode stint as a major character in the 2020 television miniseries "L'ultima de' Medici." His most recent film role was in the 2017 Italian mystery thriller "Ti proteggerò."

Roberto Benigni

Much of what makes "Life is Beautiful" work, especially in selling audiences on the tricky concept of a comedy with the backdrop of the Holocaust, is the performance of Roberto Benigni. Sure, credit must also be given to his writing and directing, but it's his infectious performance as the ever-optimistic, ever-energetic Guido that really endears people to the film. Benigni made sure to let it be known that he wasn't too different from Guido in real life, up to and including his memorable Oscar win where he literally climbed over the seats to get up to the stage and accept his award.

Benigni was largely unknown to American audiences prior to "Life is Beautiful." While he did appear in several Jim Jarmusch projects in the 1980s and '90s, none were among the indie filmmaker's more well-known or widely-seen works. Following "Life is Beautiful," Benigni has continued to both direct and act in films, including his 2002 adaptation of "Pinocchio," where he played the title character. 

The only English-language movie he has made since the 1990s is Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love," where he was reunited with "Life is Beautiful" co-star Sergio Bustric. Interestingly, his most recent movie is yet another adaptation of "Pinocchio" (2019), though in this version he plays Geppetto — making him the only actor to ever play both Pinocchio and Geppetto (via the Los Angeles Times).