Like the Oscar-winning "Life Is Beautiful," which tackled the Holocaust, Roberto Benigni's new film, "La Tigre e la Neve (The Tiger and the Snow)," is a comedy set against a tragic backdrop — the war in Iraq.
The movie is an anti-war statement in Benigni's preferred style — a love story driven by the 52-year-old actor-director's exuberant and sometimes slapstick humor.
"If you make a direct argument against the war, it bounces back at you," Benigni said Tuesday as he screened the film in Rome.
"While certain modern works on modern wars or wars of any time go to the head or are powerful as documentaries, this I think goes to the heart," he said. "And that is more dangerous, stronger."
"I'm aiming to distract, to move people, this is the only thing one can do. It's not that art or movies can save the world ... but they can comfort us."
Benigni stars as an Italian poet who travels to Iraq to save the love of his life, played by his wife and frequent co-star, Nicoletta Braschi, just as the American-led war is beginning.
Benigni said he did not seek to judge U.S. soldiers.
He drew a contrast between the soldiers and his own character — who is resourceful but scatterbrained — "and how much more irresistible, stronger, heroic, majestic is the war of that little man."
In one scene, Benigni's character pulls a fly swatter from a shopping trolley full of looted goods that he has bought from an Iraqi and proclaims: "Here, I've found a weapon of mass destruction."
"The Tiger and the Snow," which also stars Jean Reno, will be released in Italy next week.
Braschi said producers would start negotiating for U.S. release of the film next month. She said it would be released in other countries outside Italy in December.
Benigni, who won a best-actor Oscar for "Life Is Beautiful," said he hoped the movie could also be screened in Iraq. He said Iraqi consultants had provided much of the advice about language and culture.