Oscar-Nominated Italian Filmmaker Dies After Jumping Out of Hospital Window

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Mario Monicelli, 95, was considered one of the fathers of 1940s-60s Italian comedy and worked with actors including Marcello Mastroianni and Toto.


Mario Monicelli, the Oscar-nominated director and screenwriter behind many of Italy's best-known comedies from the 1940s to the 1960s, died Monday at age 95 after he leapt to his death from a fifth-floor hospital widow.
The Italian media reported that Monicelli was under treatment at Rome's San Giovanni hospital for a tumor in his prostate that appeared to be terminal.
Monicelli spoke to The Hollywood Reporter as recently as Nov. 12, in the wake of the death of famed producer Dino De Laurentiis at age 91. The two worked together on the Oscar-nominated film The Organizer in 1963. 

In a brief telephone interview, Monicelli, speaking with a strong voice, said that De Laurentiis "told [him] to be brave. He said if you push forward, without fear, you can accomplish most things."

In addition to his Oscar nomination for The Organizer, Monicelli earned a second and final Oscar nomination for Casanova '70 in 1966. In a career that started in 1935, he worked with many of the biggest names in "commedia all'italiana," including Toto, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in Monicelli's popular Big Deal on Madonna Street from 1958.

"With the death of Mario Monicelli, Italians lose a big piece of their cultural heritage," director Franco Zeffirelli said. "He gave a structure and a shape to the Italian comedy, a commercial and intellectual genre that became famous thanks to him. He was a resting giant. I never got to meet him, but I have always appreciated his work: I think we both have always been very honest with our audience, and the people -- the best judge -- have always given back their love to us. Monicelli's choice for suicide is understandable: a man with that energy, vigor and enthusiasm felt totally lost when he understood his body was like a machine who started not to work anymore."

The Tuscany-born Monicelli was active well into his 90s: His documentary homage about his adopted neighborhood in Rome, Monti, screened out of competition at the Venice Film Festival just two years ago. Monicelli was also a vocal critic of the politics and cultural impacts of media tycoon and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and he lamented what he saw as Italy's fading relevance as a producer of important films.

"During his glorious career he was able to talk about our country with grace, tenderness but most of all with irony," says Rome-born actor-director Carlo Verdone said. "He was a fighter, even a little radical sometimes. But in his movies the audience could always find a lot of humanity. Maybe his tough aspect was just a façade, a mask: on the screen you could actually see his real nature." 

"He was a socialist and his social sensitivity was part of his person before it was part of his art: irony was his best quality, and he used it in a very unique and extraordinary way to examine society," director Marco Bellocchio added.

Monicelli's apparent suicide sent ripples throughout Italy, where state broadcaster RAI broke into scheduled programming to announce the news. Tributes rolled in from all corners of Italy, with former Rome mayor and International Rome Film Festival founder Walter Veltroni saying he was "profoundly hurt by his death" that he said would "weigh heavily on him."

"The news of Monicelli's death was a shock for me, it's terrible," adds actress Claudia Cardinale, who appeared in Big Deal on Madonna Street. "He was an extraordinary man ... I knew his great determination, and I think he did not want to suffer, he did not want to spend the rest of his life as a sick man. Mario had an extraordinary memory and meeting him was always a great emotion for me. I really loved him, because he was sweet, human and generous.

Fellow director Michele Placido, a close friend of Monicelli's, said that if someone would have asked Monicelli why he chose to commit suicide, the director would have said, "'My reasons are my own,' and that is correct, they are. ... I think we have to respect the maestro's decisions."

"I think dignity was so important to him that when he realized that strength and health were abandoning him, when he understood that sickness could put him into a condition of passive manipulation, he preferred to act with courage and arrogance: he surprised death, he faced her," producer Aurelio De Laurentiis added.