For Italian director Gabriele Muccino, working in Europe was always easier than working in America. A simple phone call to his favorite actress was all that had been required to get a film made in the Old World. Across the pond, however, Muccino had to wade through a sea of agents, managers and executives before even getting a meeting with a favored actor. This went on to explain well why Muccino made four films in six years in Italy, but virtually none in America, despite signing a two-picture deal with Miramax following the success of his breakthrough film, "The Last Kiss" (2001) - a humorous look at two twenty-something men coming to grips with accepting the responsibility of adulthood. The film managed to crack the ever-elusive American market, but any advantage he gained was crushed under the weight of a bureaucratic Hollywood system that once embraced - aesthetically, at least - his Italian predecessors. Though never content, Muccino retained his sanity - and a large, eager audience - by continuing to work in his home country.
Muccino was born in Rome, Italy in 1967. He began his film career as an assistant to Italian directors Pupi Avati ("The Story of Boys and Girls") and Marco Risi ("Steam: The Turkish Bath"). After attending Rome's Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, he worked as documentary and short filmmaker for Radio Audizioni Italiane, Italy's public radio and television broadcaster. He soon directed his first feature, "That's It" ("Ecco Fatto" 1998), a light-hearted romantic comedy with dark undertones of obsession and jealousy, when a high school senior, Matteo (Giorgio Pasotti), meets an older woman (Barbora Bobulova) while trying to inject life into his anemic grades before graduation. Though he falls fast in love, Matteo becomes suspicious his lover is cheating on him and this paranoid obsession quickly destroys not only his new relationship, but quite possibly, his chances of graduating. Muccino's directing debut earned him a spot in the 1998 Turun Film Festival where he received a nomination for Best Director.
For his next film, "But Forever on My Mind" (1999), Muccino returned to high school to tell the story of a teenage activist, Silvio (brother Silvio Muccino) and his preoccupation with a fellow student, Valentina (Giulia Carmignani), despite protests against privatization. Complicating matters for Silvio is Valentina's jealous boyfriend (Simone Pagani) and growing pressures at home. The film received a smattering of award nominations, including several minor nods at the 2000 David di Donatello Awards - Italy's equivalent to the Oscars - though Muccino was largely denied recognition. But it was his next film, "The Last Kiss," that propelled Muccino into the international spotlight.
His first foray into strictly dramatic territory, "Last Kiss" showed the director's growing maturity through a group of twenty-something male friends grappling with the onset of their own adulthood. After his film grossed over $10 million in Italy - enough to qualify it a hit - Muccino earned his first David for Best Director. The film then made its way to the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, where it shared the World Cinema Audience Award and picked up distribution from ThinkFilm - but only after several other offers from bigger players fell through.
He followed up "Last Kiss" with a bittersweet look into infidelity's devastation on a marriage between a once-aspiring novelist, Carlos (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), and a former teacher, Guilia (Laura Morante), who wants to be an actress in "Remember Me, My Love" (2003). Meanwhile, their two teenage children (Nicoletta Romanoff and Silvio Muccino) suffer a lack of identity thanks to bad parenting, making for a home life that offers nothing but emptiness. "Remember Me" was nominated for 10 Davids, including Best Picture, but received nary a win. Muccino, however, won a Silver Ribbon from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists for Best Screenplay.
Ever since "Last Kiss," Muccino had been trying to get work on American films, but to no avail. His deal with Miramax went nowhere and other projects simply failed to materialize. But when Will Smith saw and loved "Last Kiss," Muccino was given the opportunity to direct the actor in "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006), the true rags-to-riches story of a single dad who overcomes poverty and homelessness to become a successful stockbroker.