Italian film critic Tullio Kezich dies

Also worked with Federico Fellini and Ermanno Olmi

MILAN -- Tullio Kezich, a prominent film critic for the daily Corriere della Sera who befriended and collaborated with Italian directing greats Federico Fellini and Ermanno Olmi, died Monday. He was 80.

Corriere della Sera, which made the death announcement, said Kezich had been sick for a long time but offered no details.

Kezich died in his adopted home of Rome, where he hung out during the Dolce Vita days with his close friend Fellini, about whom he later wrote the biography "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work."

Kezich covered more than 60 editions of the Venice Film Festival, first with Radio Trieste in 1946, during a career that included stints as an actor, playwright and screenwriter for film and television.

Among his credits was the screenplay for "The Legend of the Holy Drinker," starring Rutger Hauer and directed by another close friend, Olmi, who in 1988 won the Venice festival's coveted Golden Lion prize for the film.

In an interview accompanying the 2008 DVD release of the film, Kezich said "a series of small miracles" allowed the film -- itself about miracles -- to be made.

Kezich said Olmi, who normally resisted making films that were not his own creation, agreed to make the movie after Kezich slipped him the book at a dinner party.

"The Legend of the Holy Drinker," based on a 1930s novella by the Austrian writer Joseph Roth, revolves around Hauer's character, a Polish drunk who must struggle to redeem his honor and repay his debts.

Kezich recalled the process of writing the screenplay as Olmi instructed: "With scissors and glue, I destroyed two copies of the book, putting the descriptive passages on one side, and the dialogue on the other."

Although they shot the film in English with an American audience in mind, the film was never released in the U.S., Kezich said, "because the distributors didn't understand it."

Kezich became an authoritative voice on Italian cinema as film critic, most recently for Corriere della Sera.

The Biennale di Venezia announced after his death that a competition for young film essayists, launched this year to coincide with the 66th edition of the film festival, will be named for Kezich. It called him "the unforgettable master of film criticism and for over 60 years an authoritative reviewer of the Venice International Film Festival."

"This will be a way to keep him with us in all the future editions of the Venice International Film Festival," Biennale president Paolo Baratta said in a statement, noting that Kezich had been accredited to cover 62 editions of the film festival from 1946-2008 and that he was also a member of the selections committee in the 1960s.

Kezich is survived by his wife, Alessandra. In keeping with his wishes, Kezich is being cremated and no funeral service is planned.