Life Is Beautiful (1997)


Life Is Beautiful Storyline

In 1939, Jewish-Italian Guido Orefice comes into Arezzo, Italy, ultimately to open a book store. In the meantime, he will work as a waiter at the hotel restaurant where his Uncle Eliseo is the maître d’. In town, he meets a school teacher named Dora, who he calls Princess and who comes from a wealthy Italian family. For him, it’s love at first sight. Despite she already being in a relationship with another man, Guido ultimately sweeps her off her feet. They get married and have a son they name Giosué. On Giosué’s fifth birthday, World War II is in full force. Since they are Jewish, the Germans take away Guido, Eliseo and Giosué to a labor camp. Wanting to be with her family, Dora insists she be taken too, but she is housed in the women’s side of the camp. To protect Giosué from the horror of what is happening to them, Guido tells him that they are playing a game, certain actions which garner points, other actions which take points away or disqualify one from the game. The first to reach 1,000 points wins the prize of a real tank. Guido’s primary goal is to keep Giosué safe at all cost, while he tries to figure out a way to get his family out of the camp and keep the Germans at bay from learning what he is doing with Giosué.

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Life Is Beautiful Movie Reviews

Love is Beautiful…

Emotional extremes abound, the story takes you round and around, elevating high then smashing you down, your guiding light, the sweetest clown. The essence of all that’s right, that’s wrong, from a fathers love for his wife and son, to the thieves of liberty with guns, the worst of man, the world undone.

funny and disturbing

Before I watched this film, I was a bit hesitant because the basic premise sounds so ridiculous–a man who uses humor and imagination to shield his son from the horrors of the holocaust while in a concentration camp! I mean, how can this movie be funny? Is this another “Hogan’s Heroes” or what, I thought.

Well, first, most of the humor in the film occurs BEFORE the internment. This makes sense and allows the movie to be in good taste. I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions with the silly buffoonery of Benigni as he tries to capture the heart of a woman he keeps “bumping into”. These moments also abound with charm and seem rather reminiscent of the work of Chaplin–lots of physical humor and charm.

The second half of the movie does indeed take place in a prison camp. Occasionally, there were some mildly humorous moments but the goal was not a cheap laugh but were desperate attempts to convince the child that he should not give up hope. Despite the ludicrousness of the plot at this point (hiding a little boy in a men’s dormitory in a prison camp), the way they explain it works out perfectly and should not offend or diminish from the horrors that were the holocaust.

This film, though VERY cleverly written, was carried by Benigni’s marvelous acting. He rightly deserved the Oscar for Best Actor for all his charm, enthusiasm and magnetism.

Visually stunning, but uneven. For me the second half was better than the first

Before I eventually saw this film, I was not sure whether I was going to like it or not. While in general it is very highly regarded, there have been those who have said it is overrated or whatever. Just for the record, I did like the movie very much. It is uneven, and there were parts that didn’t work as well as intended, but this is a brave and affectionate realisation of life during the Holocaust. I asked myself after watching Life is Beautiful, is it really overrated. Well, maybe a tad, but I can really see why people like this movie.

So what didn’t make this film perfect? Well, as I have stated at least twice already, it is uneven. And in my humble opinion, the second half was better than the first. I just want to clarify that I didn’t hate the first half. Some of it is very funny, but some of the slapstick humour didn’t work as well as it should, namely eggs breaking on people’s heads. It also works very hard, to provide charm. That is perfectly acceptable, but because there was a lot of charm in the performances and the production values it felt slightly overdone. Though I will say that Benigni’s tribute to comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx was inspired.

The film changes tone to a more poignant, compelling and harrowing second half, that I think was much needed. While the character of Guido “amusingly” tries to convince his son Giosue that life in the concentration isn’t so bad, the second half’s tone has a lot of poignancy. Most notably Guido and Giosue trying to communicate to Dora over the loudspeaker, and the ending did have me in tears.

That said, there are a lot of truly good things about Life is Beautiful. For one thing, it is sumptuously filmed. The costumes look amazing and the Italian landscapes look breathtaking. (If there is one place that I would love, love, LOVE to go to it is Italy, not only for the food but for the opera as well.) The story is an effective and affectionate one, about a Jewish man who falls in love with the help of his humour, but has to do the same to protect his son in the Nazi concentration camp. The quality of the script, I saw the Italian version with English subtitles, is thoroughly decent, and hits more than it misses.

The performances are excellent in general. Roberto Benigni, one of Italy’s favourite funny men, gives a admirable performance. He does overact at times in the first half but he appears a lot more subdued in the second. And I also thought he did a better job acting than he did directing. His direction once or twice in this film was a tad stodgy. Nicoletta Braschi is just stunning as Dora, she looked amazing in this movie and was solid in terms of acting. Giorgio Cantarini didn’t always convince as Giosue though, there were times when he comes across as whiny and maybe I am being unfair but I have seen better child performances.

All in all, beautiful to watch, and a nice story. It is very pleasant to watch with a compelling and poignant second half, but there are flaws that bring it down from what could have been outstanding to just a film worth watching. 8/10 Bethany Cox