I was utterly surprised when I read critics' reviews of this movie, after watching it and making a place for it in the shelf of my favorite ones. They demolished it, tore it apart, and maybe even invented words just to say how bad it was.
Let me introduce it: its original title is La Tigre e la Neve, it was released in 2005, and was directed by Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni (whom you probably know for his award-winning Life is Beautiful), who also played the leading role. It's a dramatic comedy, and very loyal to that genre. For what I recall, there were moments I laughed out loud, and moments in which my eyes moistened (just that, cause Boys don't cry).
I am going to give a lot of spoilers, so you'll probably want to get out of here, unless you have already watched it, are not planning to watch it, have a very bad long-term memory, or don't care about spoilers anyways.
A recurring dream
Every night, Attilio de Giovanni, a poetry professor from Rome, dreams he marries (or rather tries to marry) Vittoria, a woman with whom he is deeply in love. Everyone's there, including Tom Waits and a small orchestra playing You Can Never Hold Back Spring, and Jorge Luis Borges (a nice wink considering Attilio's profession). But always something (like a traffic inspector telling him to move his car, his obligations, or the transformation of his beloved into a kangaroo) comes in the way and the wedding must be put off.
Attilio lives with his two teenage daughters in an apartment. One night, a bat comes into their bedroom, and they're frightened to death. But he recites a poem, and it goes away. So his daughters ask him how he decided to become a poet, and he tells them the whole story, with acting, sound effects and all, and he finishes with "If the words aren't right, nothing is right."
Next morning at university, he gives a class full of emotion and liveliness that makes you envy his students. I've had good professors, but they don't come even close. When it's about to finish, professor Nancy Browning (with whom Attilio had previously been in a relationship - however short) arrives, and when everyone has left asks him to meet at night. At that moment a friend from Attilio comes, and he uses it as an excuse to get away.
These two are, in my opinion, some of the strongest scenes in the movie.
Damn! I think it's over
After his class is over, he goes to attend a speech given by Fuad (Jean Reno), a fellow poet and friend from Iraq, but he arrives just at the ending. He then approaches him to talk, but is interrupted by Vittoria (the woman of his dreams) who comes to take a book from Fuad and leaves. So he does what is expected in such a situation (that is, he politely dismisses Fuad and runs after her).
He catches up with her at a café outside (where there is a picture of The Great Wave off Kanagawa), and despite her attemps to get rid of him, he manages to convince her to come to his apartment in the evening.
And she does. But what they don't know is that a while before Nancy had broken in (or she had the keys, or the door was already open - who knows?) and prepared everything for a romantic night, getting the hell out of there when she sees them coming. So everything goes smoothly for Attilio, until Vittoria leaves unexpectedly, leaving business unfinished.
The beginning of the rest of the story
Later on, Attilio recieves a call from Fuad in the middle of the night, telling him that Vittoria (who had travelled to Iraq to finish a book she was writing) had been badly injured when a building fell down after an explosion. So he decides to go there and do all he can to save her life, which involves pretending to be a doctor working for the Red Cross, searching for medical supplies through a devastated Baghdad, dealing with thieves and american troops, staying at a saturated and barely functional hospital and riding a camel.
And that's when the drama (and the rest of the comedy) kicks in.
One thing that critics say is the movie lacks realism. I totally agree. The Red Cross staff won't mistake you so easily for a doctor, it is probably much more difficult to come out unharmed of a minefield than shown, and unexpected situations which save the day happen a lot.
But focusing just on these things is missing the point of the movie. This is not a documentary about the horrors of the war, this is a comedy with dramatic elements which talks about individuals, and only touches political matters marginally.
It is also said that the guy talking nonstop for two hours is annoying. It's definetly true, it sometimes gets on your nerves, but it's part of his personality (and that of the movie).
The movie is also pretty long (it lasts for almost two hours), but I don't remember any wasted moments.
The good things
The movie is so full of everything that it would be overly complicated (and extremely boring) to put it into words. Every scene has something to show, even if it doesn't add anything to the plot. Sadness is mixed with the ridiculous, and then with hope, and then with distress and frustration, and then with relief all the time, like in a labyrinth of emotions.
It both lacks the artificiality of Hollywood movies (though not everything here makes perfect sense) and the nothing-seems-to-happen things that Hollywood movie watchers often complain about of European or Asian films.
And the ending - Oh the ending - reminds you that strange and magical (yeah, sorry for the clichéd word) situations exist in real life too.