When the legendary 87-year-old film composer finally won his first Oscar, he chose to speak in his native language. It was a subtly powerful message back home in Italy.
TURIN — On stage at the Oscars, Ennio Morricone spoke in Italian. If memory serves correctly, no one else had ever done that. It's quite likely that he knows how to speak English, or at least enough to get through the ritual thank-yous of the occasion. What's more, he was reading from a piece of paper he'd superstitiously folded and kept all evening in his tuxedo pocket. And so, even if his knowledge of the language of Shakespeare and Tarantino was limited, he would have had no trouble getting someone else to help jot down a few lines.
Instead, he chose to use Italian. He did so with self-knowledge and without any sort of ostentatious pride, but also with no sign of that inferiority complex typical of many provincial Italians, who jump at the chance to use any word with a whiff of foreign exoticism, or of certain politicians who fill their mouths with phrases such as "stepchild adoption," botching the pronunciation and not knowing the meaning.
It was striking to hear our language in the temple of the Hollywood gods, from Charlize Theron to Steven Spielberg, and to see them all rise to their feet to honor the Maestro. And it was even more striking to hear the meaning of Morricone's words, spoken slowly and yet sharply, completely devoid of rhetoric even in the final tribute to his wife of nearly six decades.
On the world's most international stage, you had the feeling you were discovering that Other Italian, the one who knows how to combine seriousness and levity, normality and talent, flair and dignity. You don't hear much about him because he doesn't stand out, but there is at least one in every Italian family. And his presence gives meaning to all the others.