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April 18, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN

GIANCARLO GIANNINI / ACTOR

Life seems beautiful for Italian cinema, but Giancarlo Giannini--a 1976 best actor Oscar nominee for Lina Wertmuller's "Seven Beauties"--wants you to know there's more to his country's film world than "Life Is Beautiful." Giannini, 56, will be honored at the L.A. Italian Film Festival, which begins Saturday, featuring his recent "Scirocco" and "No Deposit, No Return."

SAME OLD STORY: "Years ago I did 'Seven Beauties,' the story of a concentration camp, that had nominations for four Oscars. It's strange that nobody ever got how similar it and 'Life Is Beautiful' are. No one ever says that years ago Italians made people laugh about a concentration camp."

FANTASY WORLD: "I don't say this to take anything away from [Roberto] Benigni. He's a great comedian and actor, and 'Life Is Beautiful' is a fantastic film, connected with fantasy and imagination--sometimes a little too much."

THE RITES OF SPRING: "The impact of 'Life Is Beautiful' will change Benigni's life, but it probably won't have a great impact on Italian film. I'm a great friend of Benigni and really like him. But we have a saying--the birds that come in the spring, the robin? We say, 'One robin does not make it spring.' "

WORK IN A VACUUM: "Most of the young directors coming out don't find distribution. I really support them, act in their movies. But sometimes they come out with only seven or 15 copies. Even if it's a young director, making a film is a great adventure for me. But knowing in advance that only a few people will see it is depressing."

HISTORY 101: "To know Italian cinema, everyone should see [Roberto Rosselini's 1945] 'Roma Open City.' Then [Federico Fellini's] '8 1/2,' and 'Blow Up' by [Michelangelo] Antonioni and the 1942 film which was remade in America as 'A Walk in the Clouds,' which I was in. The original was 'Four Steps in the Clouds.' I could suggest many others too."

BUSY MAN: "I'm working on two American projects now, one from a woman [Audrey Wells] who won a prize from Robert Redford [Sundance]. I read the screenplay and will probably do it next year. Another American film is the story of a family that makes fireworks in New Jersey."

BUSY II: "In a month I start shooting 'Viper.' . . . Harvey Keitel is in it. And I'm playing [opera composer Giacomo] Puccini, the last part of his life, his love story with a singer. Irvin Kershner of 'The Empire Strikes Back' is directing."

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