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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.41%
Average: 6.08%
Pretty Bad: 2.66%
Total Crap: 9.51%

9 reviews, 209 user ratings

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Life is Beautiful
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Nice try, anyway."
3 stars

The first half of "Life Is Beautiful" is so charming, and the second half such a bitter letdown, that I'm not sure what to do with it. Give the movie points for trying? Acknowledge that what Roberto Benigni is attempting -- a fable about keeping love and hope alive in the midst of annihilation -- is murderously hard to bring off? The first 45 minutes or so are unabashedly romantic and enjoyable, and there are extremely moving moments throughout. But the film as a whole makes very little sense.

The first section opens in Italy in 1939. We meet Guido (Benigni), a happy-go-lucky drifter with dreams of going to the city and opening a bookstore. Guido falls in love with the lovely Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's wife), who is engaged to a humorless Fascist goon. No matter; Guido wins her heart by sheer persistence and spontaneity. In an image so shamelessly florid it can't help getting to you, Guido unfurls a long, long red carpet across rain-slick stairs so his beloved won't get her feet wet. I fell for that one pretty hard. Bravissimo. Like many foreign filmmakers unencumbered by the irony of modern Americans, Benigni does this kind of stuff with a pure conviction that recalls classic Hollywood.

In a neat transition, we soon discover that Guido and Dora have married and had a little son, Giosué. By then, the shadows have begun to creep into Benigni's fable: Italy is being overtaken by the Nazis, who soon go about rounding up all Italian Jews -- including Guido and Giosué. Out of love and solidarity, Dora insists on being taken on the same train. Guido and his little boy arrive at the work camp, and that's when the movie starts to go wrong. Guido, as you've probably heard, shields his boy from the horrors of the camp by pretending the whole thing is a game. The problem is, Benigni the filmmaker almost seems to believe it, too.

Should Life Is Beautiful be castigated for not being a starkly realistic treatment of the Holocaust? It never claims to be so. However, Benigni doesn't have the temperament that would goose the movie above the level of heartwarming -- and "heartwarming" and "Holocaust" just don't go together. There are a couple of moments of horror and tragedy, but the same could be said of Patch Adams, to which this movie is an Italian brother. Cancer, madness, genocide -- there's nothing that can't be defeated with a little laughter, a little chicken soup for the soul. When Dora hears the voice of her little boy, whom she'd feared dead, I choked up a little, but my response had nothing to do with the subject.

Could this movie have been a masterpiece? I honestly don't know, but one way to have approached it might have been to make Guido a man whose fantasies are sometimes clearly inadequate -- the bubble of his humor pops against the sharp blade of reality. Nothing much like that ever happens in Life Is Beautiful; Guido remains indomitable throughout, and I began to wish the movie had shown us that Guido had begun to go insane under the pressure of preserving his son's innocence, coming up with ever more ridiculous rationales that even the boy sees through.

A much more honest comedy might have been about an Italian father circa 1939 who loves his son but isn't nearly as affectionate -- who even beats the boy prior to the emergence of the Nazis. Then the "game" could be about the father terrorizing the boy into staying in hiding, out of love for the boy. But Roberto Benigni isn't the man to play such a father or to make such a movie. He has, instead, created a role and made a movie designed to win Oscars, and it certainly worked. What he hasn't made is a movie that means much of anything. Life Is Beautiful puts the Holocaust in comforting perspective: It reassures us that there were fathers like Guido keeping their children safe, and it tells us that love will withstand even the ruthless machine of genocide.

With "Life Is Beautiful," the final frontier of schmaltz has been reached; perhaps now our movies and our tastes can turn once more to honesty and reality.

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originally posted: 12/27/06 12:06:17
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User Comments

7/03/18 rms "No spiders or visigoths", Brilliant, absolutely briliant!! 5 stars
4/01/18 KenR Nothing like I expected after many recommendations I had from others. Odd,yet affecting. 4 stars
5/02/15 Anne at times moving, yet comedy is forced and contrived so the slapstick just doesn't work 2 stars
3/18/13 cg Beautiful. Story of hope during one of humanities darkest times 5 stars
5/17/12 Teacher The War is the backdrop, not the central theme. As a fable, it's terrific. 5 stars
3/21/11 omfg wtf fml fml wtf omfg 1 stars
2/10/11 Sylvia It is humour at his highest level - positive in the face of such tragedy. Creative & daring 5 stars
11/26/10 Sia Shar the world of cinema needed that movie.yeah. 5 stars
11/20/10 Taylor This movie is terrific!!!! it was absolutely amazingly put together perfect!! 5 stars
10/21/10 Lece I loved this film its worth watching over and over 5 stars
6/19/10 TravisN Unimpressed with Benigni's performance, and I didn't think he was very funny either. 1 stars
2/17/10 Tim Parks Disconcerting,moving, funny.. and provocative as hell for yoir reviewers! Makes it a truly 5 stars
1/18/10 blimjo the filmaker should be killed and thrown into a pit 1 stars
12/19/09 kayla it was sick as fuck assholes and it was sweet so screw you 5 stars
10/28/09 danny liked it 5 stars
10/28/09 kate awesome 5 stars
9/27/09 Seth Disappointing. No depth. Farsical depiction of holocaust/history. Naive message 2 stars
12/19/08 arro one of my absolute favourites 5 stars
9/17/08 DL Guido is insane, so insane that even in a CC he thinks of nothing but his kid and wife. 5 stars
5/27/08 siddhant cudnt be any better!!! 5 stars
5/22/08 yupp not a terrible movie, but not something I would ever want to see again. 3 stars
5/16/08 chelsea818 ghey. 1 stars
4/30/08 Loren the most amazing film i have ever seen. benigni sei grande!! 5 stars
3/24/08 sana superb...there is nothing more i can say 5 stars
3/14/08 waqar Excellent movie that i have ever seen 5 stars
2/07/08 mouse Love the story line with humor and courage of one mans tale 5 stars
2/06/08 Ann Sellars Glorious Italy! Wonderul love story! Terreble cruelty of human against human. Great film. 5 stars
9/21/07 Airra I love this film. I cried after watching it. I hate Hitler. 5 stars
9/12/07 andi very inspirational film. every student should watch! 5 stars
9/12/07 Michelle a must see for EVERYONE! it says it all in the title, life is BEAUTIFUL!!!! 5 stars
9/04/07 R.W. Welch Bizarre tragi-comedy that somehow manages to work on both levels. 4 stars
8/31/07 Leanne Daniella i cried at the end of the film 'cause i got so touched with the love Guido has for his son. 5 stars
6/13/07 fools♫gold Like Terminator 2, it's perfect in EVERY sense so that you DON'T see how "imperfect" it is. 5 stars
5/23/07 Belinda Isadore The guy is smooth in eveything he does. 4 stars
4/16/07 milica its amazing how one movie can make you cry & laugh at the same time 5 stars
2/12/07 Isma Very good!!! Salut to benigni...entertaining and make mcry and laugh together 4 stars
2/12/07 liz Benigni master emotional engineer. what would you do for love? 5 stars
11/19/06 Jerome Bosch Bullshit. NOT funny. Benigni is nothing but a poseur. 1 stars
11/07/06 Bibiana This movie shows the positive side of a cruel reality 5 stars
10/22/06 Gillian A way to wipe the bad out of the good (and for all you 1- star ppl- eat shit) 5 stars
10/06/06 erm pretty good movie considering it's about the halocaust 4 stars
5/27/06 Sheena Sad...makes you relize how bad ww2 was 5 stars
5/13/06 Ann Marie It was an awesome movie. it was funny and heart warming. I would recomend anyone to see it 5 stars
4/30/06 shilpa excellent 5 stars
3/21/06 bibi great and touching! 5 stars
1/17/06 Jared Wilson I'm a sucker for this movie 5 stars
1/04/06 Piz loses a little in translation but a great movie, funny and deeply touching 5 stars
12/23/05 Gabe the most beautiful piece of art I've ever seen 5 stars
9/09/05 noops one of the best films i ve ever seen 5 stars
8/19/05 ES One of the few movies where the englich dubbing turns a great movie into a goofy movie 4 stars
8/16/05 pip smythe i thought that the movie was very sad and had bits and pieces of comedy in it 5 stars
5/11/05 Katie Malone Indeed. Life is beautiful. 5 stars
12/04/04 Alan Liddle The funniest sad story I have ever seen 5 stars
12/01/04 Evgeny Another black-white attempt at picturing Germans truly evil and Jews sweet and innocent 3 stars
11/16/04 katherine excellent totaly heart breaking definatly a watch again 5 stars
8/06/04 ELI I'm sorry, but I thought the main character was soooo annoying. I couldnt stand him. 2 stars
7/27/04 Manju This is an INCREDIBLY AWESOME picture 5 stars
7/07/04 EricDSnider Beautiful 5 stars
6/15/04 T. Maj Daring concept tackled almost always successfully 4 stars
4/24/04 star moving; outstandingly beautiful 5 stars
4/05/04 Nick Morley Genius. Difficult subject matter tackled sensitively. Must see. 5 stars
2/19/04 MP Bartley A devastating, inspiring, thoughful piece of work. 5 stars
12/05/03 john a brilliant piece of work - phenomenal! 5 stars
5/29/03 leanne i thought the film was really good. i am studying it for english at school 4 stars
3/28/03 Gray only an Italian could make a comedy about the Holocaust (I say this in praise) 5 stars
1/23/03 Pinkline Jones Totally overrated by people who haven't watched many non-English films 3 stars
12/30/02 John Aster Habig a movie for everyone, Roberto funny and profound, the movie heartwarming and intelligent 5 stars
6/27/02 Bada Bing Crosby Only saving grace is that it seems like this is it for Roberto's career 1 stars
6/12/02 Hulahula Just didn't want the film to end...Benigni is incredible. 5 stars
5/28/02 Charles Tatum The best film of the last twenty five years 5 stars
5/23/02 Piz Johnny, being sarcastic to all those who says it makes a mockery of CCamps! 5 stars
4/12/02 Moeru A great movie that touches our Humanity!!! Benigni's the best 5 stars
3/18/02 Johnny A great movie!! 2 thumbs up! Piz, it may be a movie but it is a true story!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/01/02 Andrew Carden Go Home People...and Rent Pleasentville. 2 stars
1/17/02 Piz Cinematic masterpiece, remember kids, its only a movie! 5 stars
12/11/01 Monster W. Kung One of the most overrated movies ever. I like Benigni, but this is not good. 2 stars
10/24/01 Connoisseur mockery? john gotti, you make me ashamed of being part of the human race 5 stars
10/22/01 john gotti shamfeul mockery of a terrible period in history 1 stars
10/22/01 muddy One of the best movies ever made. Funny, Moving, Wonderful! 5 stars
9/15/01 pooberry The basic plot is ridiculous and even frankly insulting. 1 stars
9/08/01 Bada Bing Crosby To call this dogshit insults the genuine dogshit; it was worse than that 1 stars
9/03/01 spaceworm Dogshit. 1 stars
8/28/01 Phil M. Afficianado Honest: really WANTED to love this, but liking it became a chore. What'd I miss? Sorry guys 3 stars
6/21/01 Tzila Seewald BEAUTIFUL MOVIE! Nichotta is very cute when he acted goofy! 5 stars
6/19/01 Maghfira Damayanti A Very touching film 5 stars
5/23/01 A Father Shows lengths people will go to for their children 5 stars
5/18/01 Melissa in NYC Get the Prozac, you're going to need it! Great, sad, funny, incredible. 5 stars
5/13/01 kenstillman like watching someone piss on the graves at Auschwitz while laughing at himself 1 stars
4/04/01 tawni burgess I just love roberto benini, women dream to be loved like this, and he is SO FUNNY! 5 stars
4/03/01 earthpet GREAT! If you love to READ your movie instead of watching! 1 stars
3/22/01 Guoda Roberto Benigni's acting was wonderful. It really made a big impression on me. 5 stars
3/19/01 Elendil A clue for those who don't get the comedy angle - juxtaposition. Depressing, brilliant. 5 stars
3/17/01 ERAN A holocust - Denier film. Terrible 1 stars
3/09/01 gmh Profound film about matters even bigger than the Holocaust 5 stars
2/27/01 Steve in Prague jesus christ teen movie II is a total little stupid BITCH!!! FUCK OFF!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/23/01 CeoBenzGirl Great movie. Hard to put words to it.. One of those you just have to see yourself! 5 stars
2/17/01 Jake Benigni annoys! 1 stars
2/16/01 antonio wow! 5 stars
12/02/00 Mitja Podgajski One of the best movies i have ever seen in my life... 5 stars
11/15/00 salvo toscano bravo roberto, "la vita è bella" è un gran film 5 stars
11/02/00 JOHNNY Another Jewish Pity Party... worse then SHITliers list!!!! 1 stars
11/01/00 Nicole H Excellent! When I wasn't laughing, I was crying. 4 stars
10/02/00 Zeitgeist amazing 5 stars
9/11/00 MIKE boo hoo hoo.... what a bore. 1 stars
8/29/00 libs classic 5 stars
6/04/00 emma Made me cry for our world's tragic past. Filled me with sadnes, guilt, embarrassment that I 5 stars
6/04/00 Piz Don't listen to the any language this is a masterpiece. 5 stars
6/02/00 Wafer brilliant movie. simply put 5 stars
5/21/00 mellemel Excellent movie! 5 stars
5/05/00 nadim sara dangerous subject, briliand performance 4 stars
4/14/00 2345 2345 1 stars
4/04/00 PJ Nothing short of a Miracle 5 stars
3/29/00 Heathyr Wolfe This movie was awesome and the first Holocaust film i have ever been able to sit thru.u 5 stars
3/27/00 Billie A simple, beautifull, fable. :) 5 stars
3/04/00 Pizaster brilliant work by Begnini, will move you in every way. Best Foreign Film ever. 5 stars
3/01/00 Mic More 3.5 than 3 stars. After Schindler's List, the second half of this looks contrived. 3 stars
2/05/00 john gotti Shameful mockery of a terrible period in history 1 stars
12/10/99 Kristin M Benigni perfectly incorporated a comical twist to the serious subject of the Holocaust. 5 stars
11/17/99 Monica Bersani LOVED IT! 5 stars
11/11/99 Fenris This is not a "shameful mockery" but a triumph of the human spirit! 5 stars
11/03/99 michele po esse meglio 4 stars
10/23/99 SJKelley Few movies will move you this much. 5 stars
9/16/99 Ratso Roberto Begnini is jiggling my ASS! 5 stars
9/13/99 kelly totally awesome i'd see it 5 zillion times 5 stars
9/09/99 azzad I laughed, I cried, what else can you say- the best! 5 stars
8/11/99 Dane Jackson Great movie, I need to rush out and rent 'Il monstro' 5 stars
7/24/99 Bozo He couldn't die fast enough for me-at least that way I didn't have to hear him anymore!!!! 1 stars
6/29/99 meirose Shameful mockery of a terrible period in history 1 stars
6/15/99 David It's easily Benigni's best work, if extremely heavy on the pathos 4 stars
6/06/99 CozoShimpo 5 STARS! Benigni is a genius. 5 stars
5/07/99 Diptherio I HATE BENNINI 1 stars
5/07/99 Katie I saw it twice, it's simply wonderful. Roberto, what a guy! 5 stars
5/07/99 Debbie One of my top ten of all time 5 stars
4/30/99 Goddess This movie is so touching, but so real. See it! 5 stars
4/20/99 bb Beautiful Movie. 5 stars
4/19/99 Kalolaina Amazing piece of art. Reminded me what a movie can do-tell a story and touch your heart. 5 stars
4/17/99 meirose Shameful mockery of a terrible period in history 1 stars
4/17/99 papa eddie one of the best movies...ever 5 stars
4/14/99 Ami the Wonderbread I can't help but smile and giggle every time I see Roberto!!! 5 stars
4/14/99 François A. Jacques Super. Excellent. Bravo to Roberto!!! 5 stars
4/11/99 Alonzo This movie was awesome 5 stars
4/10/99 mikebo It had that magic that old hollywood used to have which we don't see much of anymore. 5 stars
4/09/99 Matt Miller I was one of the greatest movies i have ever seen 5 stars
4/08/99 Brian M Roberto is THE clown 5 stars
4/05/99 film dude comparable to the great films of filmdom 5 stars
4/05/99 Cool Thing People who are offended should chill the fuck out. Enjoy a brilliant movie. 5 stars
4/04/99 kelykel Incredibly moving, a brilliant telling of a horrific story. 5 stars
4/04/99 o_u_kidd The guy was so gallant; the idea that funny walks in this situation are FUNNY is pathetic. 2 stars
3/31/99 The Graduate Astounding--the final scene had me laughing and crying at the same time. Pure genius. 5 stars
3/31/99 Tony K. Overated, overacted, overdone. And whose idea was it to make a comedy about the Holocaust? 3 stars
3/29/99 Kenda beautiful 5 stars
3/28/99 HeatherLadyBug life is ugly...very ugly 3 stars
3/27/99 Donna This movie was the worst! In fact, I walked out of it after the first 30 minutes! 1 stars
3/27/99 arkasha very moving, beautifuly un-Hollywood 5 stars
3/26/99 debbie tuttle bonjourno principessa! 5 stars
3/25/99 meirose insulting parody of a terrible time in history 1 stars
3/23/99 Shuita Brilliant film, genius filmmaking 5 stars
3/23/99 Totok Wicaksono I don't like it 3 stars
3/21/99 Zandman Impressive and inventive mixture of comedy and tragedy. 4 stars
3/20/99 Lindsay Amazing. 5 stars
3/20/99 Charlie Cannot buy Dad's deception/Son's belief 3 stars
3/14/99 Dharma Once you finish sobbing, you will be smiling for two hours straigt after seeing this movie. 5 stars
3/11/99 Negative Creep Hands Down this is the best film of the year principesa! 5 stars
3/09/99 Katie Roberto Benigni is wonderful, this film's a joy to watch. 5 stars
3/02/99 jennifer newsome this film was beautiful in all aspects, bravo! awesome! 5 stars
3/01/99 Malbert Best movie I have ever seen! 5 stars
2/25/99 Cool Thing This is one of the great ones. Will be remembered for a long time. 5 stars
2/24/99 Mira This is fantastic. Life IS beutiful, and it doesn't get any better than this! 5 stars
2/23/99 kitty houston Couldn't stand this wildly over-rated stinker 2 stars
2/22/99 sp it moved me to tears!! 5 stars
2/22/99 Bryan Best Movie of '98 5 stars
2/21/99 bp Absolutely incredible film experience. I will go see this again. 5 stars
2/20/99 Jeff It REALLY doesn't get any better than this movie. See it. 5 stars
2/19/99 jess amazing. you HAVE to see this film. 5 stars
2/18/99 Derek Begnini is a treasure. Funny, eerie, and unique. 5 stars
2/18/99 Dave Piz touched on every emotion...a blend of what makes movies great. 5 stars
2/18/99 Carol Touching, funny, lovely, SEE IT. Twice. 5 stars
2/17/99 Bridgette Beautiful 5 stars
2/17/99 Icy This was definitely one of the best movies I've ever seen...I hope it wins Best Picture! 5 stars
2/11/99 jeannine The best movie I have seen in years! 5 stars
2/01/99 Bob M. I've seen it twice this week. Great Movie!!! 5 stars
1/24/99 sparkwoman WOW! I had no idea what I was in for; what an incredibly wonderful surprise. 5 stars
1/24/99 Hannah Hopkins-Maupin Thought-provoking...everyone should see it. 5 stars
1/23/99 Goofaloo The most wonderful film of 98. Freakin' brilliant. Hollywood can't do this. 5 stars
1/11/99 Kudra This was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. 5 stars
1/10/99 Suzz wonderful film 5 stars
1/07/99 Jon excellent 5 stars
12/30/98 jvt So close to being great, but the overlong first half takes it down 4 stars
12/23/98 Lou Pine, Jr. You either suspend your disbelief or you don't. I did. Very moving. 4 stars
12/22/98 Jim Niles I really enjoyed this film...wonderfully drawn characters 5 stars
12/21/98 c foley I can't get this film out of my head, i loved it 5 stars
12/20/98 Tom Ripley Seems most of you miss the point. The movie is about denial; ain't just a river in Egypt. 5 stars
12/09/98 UncleMonty A genuine warmth. Not perfect, but wonderful in the true sense of the word. 4 stars
12/06/98 Mr Showbiz Warm and cuddly film about the holocaust? And it's as tasteless as it sounds. 3 stars
12/05/98 grunter the only thing more annoying than Benigni is a Mr. Bean marathon - yeeuck. 1 stars
12/01/98 Evil Buffy awsome. it was so sweet and charming and funny, and then it was so sad. i laughed i cried 5 stars
11/28/98 GLee Charming, but not thrilled with light depiction of the camp. 4 stars
11/26/98 Missy Funny, charming, and heartwrenching 5 stars
11/23/98 Chris Best Foriegn Film I've seen. 5 stars
11/23/98 Montes Great movie. Effective, powerful, beautiful. 5 stars
11/18/98 Goshosento Tears of laughter literally mixed with those of sorrow as I watched this unforgetabl film 5 stars
11/17/98 Tom Ripley Funny as hell, until the subtext kicks in. Hello, Oscar! 5 stars
11/16/98 Johny Lacks some cruelty, but does NOT make light of Nazis. Controversy is misguided - 4.5 stars 4 stars
11/16/98 MissDelicateFlower damn good, not perfect, but damn good. 5 stars
11/15/98 dforcher Depict humor, joy, and hope in the face of doom. Heavy, heavy. 5 stars
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  06-Aug-1999 (PG-13)


  26-Dec-1998 (M)

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