Life is Beautiful

Reviewed By Ryan Arthur
Posted 02/19/99 04:05:39

"Buongiorno, Principessa!"
5 stars (Awesome)


So much has already been said about this outstanding film. Despite being released in October of 1998, this movie didn't arrive at a local theater until just last week.

It was worth the wait.

Writer/director/star Roberto Benigni has created a wonderful movie that walks a delicately fine line between comedy and what could have been such powerful sadness.

The first half of the film deals with Guido (Benigni) and his pursuit of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, his real-life wife), a schoolteacher in Italy the 1930's. Guido works as a waiter in his uncle's hotel. There are moments of comic brilliance, like a very Marx Brothers-like physical comedy sequence involving a hat, but mostly the film's opening hour deals with Guido winning Dora overfrom a fiancee who happens to be a Facist. It's sweetly comic and romantic (note the scene involving Guido, Dora and a red carpet) and very vibrant.

Cut ahead a few years. Guido (a Jew) and Dora (a gentile, we learn) have married, and have a son, Giosue' (Giorgio Cantarini). We're now in the height of World War II, and the begin rounding up the Jews. Guido and Giosue' are led towards thetrains taking them to the concentration camps. Dora demands to be let on the train because she doesn't want to be separated from her family. Guido, not wanting to alarm his son, pretends that all of it - the train, the camps, the labor - is merely an elaborate game, a game that if Giosue' plays correctly, he can win. This becomes the basis for the film's second hour.

While set during the Holocaust, this is not necessarily a film about the Holocaust. It's still a comedy, and it carefully walks the line. It doesn't make light of the loss of the Jewish people. The film is very aware of the weight and gravity of the subject. We see Guido doing everything in his power to keep Giosue' safe and into the game, going so far as to unwittingly involving other prisoners and the German guards (Guido, speaking no German, translates German threats into rules of the game for his son, while the other prisoners look on in disbelief). He must keep his son from the infamous showers, he must try to keep contact with his wife, and above all, he must not lose hope.

La Vita e' bella (Life Is Beautiful) is so bittersweet at times, and it does keep you guessing. Much like Guido, you hold out hope that things will, in fact, turn out okay.

I'd argue that this is the best film I've seen this year. Other critics certainly have. Audiences may be put off by the fact that it's such a delicate subject, or that it's in Italian with subtitles.

Don't be.

This movie deserves to be seen, and deserves the accolades it has received (and continues to receive).

I cannot stress enough: outstanding.

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