(ANSA) - Rome, February 17 - Paolo Sorrentino is heading to the Oscars on March 2 with high hopes The Great Beauty will become Italy's first winner in 15 years after it was named best foreign film at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs).
'La Grande Bellezza', which won a Golden Globe on January 13, is the most acclaimed Italian film for years despite a mixed reception at home.
Like Sorrentino's acclaimed look at squalid Rome high society, Roberto Benigni's Holocaust tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful won a BAFTA - but not a Golden Globe - before going on to triumph in Los Angeles in 1999.
Sorrentino dedicated the BAFTA win to late director Carlo Mazzacurati, who died January 22.
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.
Sorrentino is set to accompany the film, which also won the European Film Awards last year, to America where it will be vying for an Independent Spirit Award on the eve of the Oscars.
He will go through a series of pre-Oscar rites including a press lunch on the Friday preceding the Sunday night ceremony.
Servillo is touring Italy with Eduardo De Filippo's Le Voci di Dentro (Innter Voices) and has so far said he probably won't go to LA, like veteran comic and director Carlo Verdone, who has a cameo in The Great Beauty and recently said: "it's Paolo's film, it's only right he should have the limelight".
But sources close to Sorrentino said Monday that his protagonist Servillo, who tends to eschew the limelight, "might be tempted after all" to claim one of the four seats assigned to film's makers and actors. It is one of the most decorated films in Italy so far this season, having taken home five awards from Italy's Nastri d'Argento (Silver Ribbon) honors and the best cinematography prize at the Globi d'Oro, Italy's Golden Globes, as well as the Golden Globe - the first won by an Italian film since Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso in 1989.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film "an amusing update on Italian society at the end of a cycle" that recalled the "magical atmosphere" of cinematic icon Federico's 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.
He has also personally won four David di Donatello honors, Italy's version of the Oscars, and four Nastri d'Argento prizes.
However, this is the first time one of his films has been selected as Italy's official Oscar candidate.
The Great Beauty will be competing against 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, is tipped as The Great Beauty's biggest challenger.
It was named as 'could win' by Indiewire, which said Sorrentino's work 'should' and 'will' win.
Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, with Mads Mikkelsen in a Cannes-winning leading role, is seen as a dark horse, along with the black-and-white Khmer Rouge killing fields documentary that topped the Un Certain Régard category at Cannes.
Omar, a thriller about young love blighted by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has an outside chance, bookies say. Italy has won the Academy Award for best foreign film 12 times to date, starting in 1947 with Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine (Sciuscia').
De Sica went on to clinch the award a further three times, for Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di Biciclette), Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Ieri, Oggi e Domani) and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini) respectively in 1950, 1965 and 1971.
Fellini also took the award 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.
The 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen Degeneres take place on March 2 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.