- Title: Life is Beautiful // La vita è bella
- Country of Origin: Italy
- Genre: Comedy/Drama, Tragi-comedy
- Released: 1997
- Run Time: 115 Minutes
- Director: Robert Benigni
- Starring: Robert Benigni (Italy), Nicoletta Braschi (Italy), Georgio Cantarini (Italy), Guisitino Durano (Italy), Horst Buchholz (Germany)
- Available On: Amazon, Netflix DVD, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube Rental
- Reccomendation by: George Harrison
Robert Benigni’s 1997 so-called masterpiece takes one through a piece of dark history yet leaves you with some kind of impression of positivity. Though its title might suggest as such, its Holocaustic setting, does not.
Life is Beautiful, directed and co-written by Benigni,) tells the story of Italian Jew, Guido (a role played by Benigni, earning him an Academy Award), his falling in love with Dora (played by his real wife Nicoletta Braschi) and the protection of his boy’s innocence in a concentration camp (Cantarini).
Many would see the scenes in the concentration camp as the core of this film, but I think that the film’s strengths lie in its groundwork. The establishing of the relationship between Guido and Dora, their falling in love, and the exaggerated light-hearted comedy are strong factors and draw you into a false sense of security, much like the reality for many Jews at the time. The light hearted normality is like a tool. Whilst you expect the change of setting as a viewer, you still aren’t sure how it will work out and feel the characters’ sense of confusion. This then stares you in the face as Guido attempts to shield his son from the horrors of the camp with his imagination.
These scenes focus less on the details of the Holocaust and more on the ethics of Guido’s attempt to continue creating beauty in the lives of those he loves. Is deceiving his son cruel? How he can continue his charade, as the situation looks bleaker and bleaker?
Benigni is too much the bumbling mid-20th century Italian stereotype for even the characters on screen, reflecting a style of comedy that has been out of mainstream live action for a long time, though it still succeeds in making one smile. His performance is the film’s driving force, as other characters bask in his charismatic awe. The Holocaustic undertones that run all the way through the film that are constantly in conflict with his optimism. For example, Guido and his uncle discover that someone has painted his uncle’s horse green and written “Achtung [attention], Jewish horse”, thus revealing the family is Jewish and bringing persecution to Guido’s attention. He then rides the horse into a room full of anti-Semitic sympathisers to fetch his beloved.
There is a lot more to be said about Life is Beautiful than what you’ve read here and yet it lends itself to the film viewer as something entertaining without lessening the seriousness this time in European History.