(ANSA) - Rome, March 3 - Italy was overjoyed Monday after its selection for best foreign film, Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, brought home the Academy Award, its eleventh in history and most ever for any country in the category. Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said the win was a mark of "Italian pride," in a tweet, reflecting the front page of every national daily. President Giorgio Napolitano hailed the "splendid" win by Sorrentino "in the great tradition of Italian cinema".
The prize puts Italy two statuettes ahead of France's nine foreign-Oscar wins, 15 years after Italy's last Academy Award for Roberto Benigni's Holocaust tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful. The Great Beauty is a jaundiced view of decadent, spicy but jaded high jinks in Italy's capital through the eyes of a culture critic played by acclaimed actor Toni Servillo, a veteran of five Sorrentino movies, who appeared beside his fellow Naples native at the podium in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre.
In his acceptance speech, Sorrentino thanked his hometown, Napoli soccer icon Diego Armando Maradona and Rome, as well as Italian cinematic icon Federico Fellini, to whom he looked for much of the film's artistic inspiration.
In addition to loved ones, he also thanked Italian-American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, whose Wolf of Wall Street lost to 12 Years a Slave in the Best Picture category. After bagging top foreign honors at the Golden Globe awards and the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) earlier this year, The Great Beauty was considered the favorite at the Oscars despite a mixed reception at home.
The Golden Globe was the first won by an Italian film since Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso in 1989 Other honors include five awards from Italy's Nastri d'Argento (Silver Ribbon) and the best cinematography prize at the Globi d'Oro, Italy's Golden Globes.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film "an amusing update on Italian society at the end of a cycle" that recalled the "magical atmosphere" of Fellini's 'Roma' and 'La Dolce Vita'.
The 43-year-old Sorrentino has emerged as one of Italy's most respected directors over the last dozen years, with five of his seven feature films screening in competition in Cannes, including The Great Beauty which failed to win an honor there, to the shock of critics. He has also personally won four David di Donatello honors, Italy's version of the Oscars, and four Nastri d'Argento prizes.
This was the first time one of his films had been selected as Italy's official Oscar candidate.
In its victory, The Great Beauty beat out The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Hunt (Denmark), The Missing Picture (Cambodia) and Omar (Palestine).
Belgian director Felix Van Groenigen's musical about a daughter's death threatening a couple's bond, was tipped as The Great Beauty's biggest challenger.
It had been named as 'could win' by Indiewire, which had said Sorrentino's work 'should' and 'will' win.
In addition to winning 11 Academy Awards to date for best foreign film, Italy won three honorary awards before the foreign category was introduced in 1956, starting in 1947 with Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine (Sciuscia').
De Sica went on to clinch the honorary award a second time for Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di Biciclette) in 1950, followed by bona fide Oscars for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Ieri, Oggi e Domani) and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini) respectively in 1965 and 1971.
Fellini won Oscars four times, for The Road (La Strada) in 1957, Nights of Cabiria (Le notti di Cabiria) in 1958, Eight and a Half (Otto e mezzo) in 1963 and Amarcord in 1974.
Other Italian directors to have won the award are Elio Petri with his Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto) in 1970; Giuseppe Tornatore and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in 1990; Gabriele Salvatores and Mediterraneo in 1992; and Benigni for his Life is Beautiful in 1999, for which he also won the best actor award.