Life is Beautiful (1998) 114 minutes (PG-13)
Starring: Giorgio Cantarini, Nicoletta Braschi and Roberto Benigni. Directed by Roberto Benigni. Produced by Elda Ferri and Gianluigi Braschi. Written by Roberto Benigni and Vincenzo Cerami.

The Italian film is a Chaplinesque fable set in World War II Europe. It combines satire, physical comedy, social commentary and a touch of the surreal into a gentle story of a father's love for his son. The movie is not a strict commentary or even close to a documentary on the Holocaust, but is a simple celebration of and tribute to life.
A poignant Italian film about the human spirit and love. Untranslated, La vita e bella, is a film directed by Roberto Benigni.

Awards
Nastri d'Argento awards 1998 - Best film, Best actor (Benigni), Best Supporting actor (Giustino Durano), Story and Screenplay.
Cannes Film Festival 1998 - Grand Jury Prize.
European Film Awards 1998 - Best Film and Best Actor.
Oscars 1999 - Best Actor and Best Foreign Film.

Storyline
A clownish country bumpkin named Guido arrives in a large Tuscan town to start a new life in the late 1930s. He soon meets and falls in love with a prim school teacher named Dora. Through a series of comic incidents and magical coincidences, he wins her heart and they get married. It is such a lovely fairytale.

Guido is played by Begnini, and Dora by Nicoletta Braschi his real-life wife.

But as World War II takes hold, the inexorable rise of fascism and anti-Semitism change their they lives. Guido, who is part-Jewish, is hauled off to a concentration camp with his uncle and his infant son, Giosue. Even though his wife is not Jewish, she refuses to escape and is also interned in a concentration camp for women.

Guido, despite his apparently simplistic nature, tries to shield his son from the reality of their hardship. Instead, he turns it into a game. Hiding his own fear and risking his safety, he preserves his son's life and innocence right to the end.

"Buongiorno, Principessa!"
-Guido to his princess, Dora

La Vita è Bella

La Vita e Bella is the original title of this movie. Most anglophones, sadly enough, know it by its English name, which is why it is noded here.

Just - for the love of the movie - do not see the redubbed version of this film. You won't die from a few subtitles, and the Italian spontaneity in this movie really adds to its value.

Why this is a gorgeous movie

La Vita e Bella is probably one of the most surprising movies you'll ever see. Sure it might not be as hip and cool as Schindler's List or Saving Ryans Privates, but in terms of world war two movies, La Vita e Bella lands in an entirely different category than any of the other war movies I have seen.

Most importanly, La Vita e Bella isn't about war heroes or how horrible war is. It is about how normal people try and cope with the situation.

Also, using a certain degree of sarcasm, irony and satire, the director does a good job in describing how the lead character explains to his child what fascism is all about. Nothing short of brilliant.

Plot synopsis (no real spoilers here)

When the movie starts off, we meet Guido (Roberto Benigni), who falls in love with Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's wife in real life) after he moves from the countryside into a town near Tusca. In the beginning of the movie, a heartwarming love story is being told between the two of them. Guido's flirting is world class, and Dora can't help but fall for this strange, but charming man.

Let's skip five years ahead in the film. Guido and Dora are married and have a son (Giosue). World War two begins, but Guido refuses to let Giosue be affected by it. By telling white lies and bending the truth, Guido invents all kinds of stories as to why bad things are happening to them.

Dora disappears during the war. Guido and Giosue end up in a concentration camp. Still, Guido tries to protect his son from the war that is raging, by pretending they are part of a very Big Brother-esque game show;

You can lose all your points for any one of three things.
One: If you cry.
Two: If you ask to see your mother.
Three: If you're hungry and ask for a snack!

In the process of trying to protect his son, Guido ends up in all kinds of charming, wonderful situations that made me wonder how I myself would cope with being in a war. I suspect that is what the director tried in the first place.

 

The first half of the movie is a gorgeous love story that is bound to leave you smiling. The second half (the part set in the concentration camp) does a great deal to sour up this happiness - an effect used to full extent by the director - and yet, when the whole movie is over, you sit there, realizing that you just saw the feelgood movie of the year, although several points of the movie are quite sad.

It is a story about love - a well told and well shot story, well worth watching.

The Controversy

Making a comedy out of something as serious as the holocaust was bound to create some large reactions. It did, but, fascinating enough, mainly in a postitive way.

The movie takes a fresh new look on things, and several of the people who have suffered the pain and suffering of the concentration camps say that La Vita e Bella is one of the better approaches to this difficult subject.

The cast and other facts

The most dominant character is without doubt Guido, played by the famous Italian comedian Roberto Benigni. Not only does he play the lead character, but he also wrote and directed the movie.

Most important roles:

The movie was made in 1998

Awards

La Vita e Bella has won a bunch of awards both locally in Italy and internationally:

Trivia

(stolen from IMDB)

  • The number on Benigni's prison camp uniform is the same number on Charlie Chaplin's uniform in Great Dictator, The (1940), the satire of Hitler and fascism.
  • Benigni says the title comes from a quote by Leon Trotsky. Knowing he was about to be killed by Stalin's assassins, he saw his wife in the garden and wrote that, in spite of everything, "life is beautiful."

 

-30-

I've just finished watching Life is Beautiful and am going through the most significant hour of any movie - the bit afterwards where it lays down in your head. The film was very well done, as I'd been told. However, I don't think I wlil remember it as a great film. Far too much things stand out as implausible, and having a plausible plot is very important to me. It feels contrived.

The most important enigma for me was the son. Kids are not stupid. They can pick up bad vibes as much as any of the rest of us, and they can see through bullshit pretty well, too. The script tries to portay the son as insightful in the way it has him pick out his grandmother. But then he goes along with his father's ridiculous lines about the death camp being a game. Most of all, there is no way you'd be able to keep a kid caged up in a smelly dormatory that way. How did he and his father survive on food that would have been barely enough for even one mouth? Knowing how easily bored I was at that age, I refuse to believe a kid could sit patiently in a room day after day but be still lured by the promise of winning a prize.

The moment with the doctor confronting the protagonist in the dining room is very moving, but out of place. It's too cold. It would have felt appropriate in a plot styled something like Heller's Catch 22, but not here.

I don't know about the history of the region(Tuscany?). Somebody may be able to point out to me whether or not the timing of his arrest with the end of the war was accurate. It's all very convenient that they only had to spend a few days in the camp.

There's a lot of sign of the rising of fascism in Italy through the whole movie. Some are very obvious, some are not. Here are the most interesting one.

  • The car at the beginning is a FIAT-508 a.k.a. the Balilla. In 1930's Italy, the Balila was a young fascist group born from Mussolini's propaganda.
  • In the school, the desk are placed in a way to form the shape of the letter M, referring to Mussolini.
  • The kids of the carpet shop guy are named Benito and Adolph (referring to Mussolini and Hitler).

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