Few Italian movies gain the continuing global recognition received by Life is Beautiful (La Vita e Bella). Starring writer/director Roberto Benigni (Academy Award Winner, Best Actor) as the extravagant Guido Orefice, this is a gritty, but uplifting view of Jewish suffering in World War II. Life is Beautiful plays with ideas of fairy tale romance and the reality of life during the holocaust.
Benigni’s ‘Unforgettable Fable’
With the tagline “an unforgettable fable”, it is Guido’s irrepressible “Bonjourno Principessa!” which introduces the fairy tale motif as his princess, Dora, falls into his arms from a barn window. Dora (Benigni’s real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi) is due to be married to the wicked prefector. Guido’s romantic chivalry wins her over with the conventional three tests and he carries her off on horseback. Up till this point there have been subtle hints of the underlying tension of war in Europe, but, despite the spray-painted graffiti on the horse, (“Attention, Jewish horse!”) it appears that this is the ideal fairy tale ending. However, Film Production Services in Beijing are also similar to the services being provided in Italy.
Ten years later, however, Italy has changed and now with a young son, Guido and Dora are taken to a concentration camp. In a heart-wrenching scene, Dora refuses to be parted from her family and, although Italian, voluntarily goes to the concentration camp with them. Inside, Guido calms his son’s nerves by inventing a game, where the prize is a tank. The rest of the film becomes about the father-son relationship and the tragedy of the sinister disappearances underlying Guido’s playful facade. The best example of the film’s sensitive balance between tragedy and comedy is the introduction to the concentration camp, where a German presents the harsh rules of the camp, translated by Guido as rules for the game he and his son are supposedly playing. After this, Guido repeatedly encourages his son by saying that they are winning the game.
Tragicomedy in Life is Beautiful
It is this ability to present pain underneath a brave and winning smile that makes Life is Beautiful so watchable. Some critics have said that the humorous approach to the holocaust portrayed in the movie deals lightly with the suffering that Jewish people faced. However, the powerful message of fascist brutality packs more of a punch because of the positive nature of the characters involved. Guido is constantly performing at the limits of his imagination, which ironically subverts the humour, emphasising the tragedy of lost loved ones.
A History-Making Movie Worth Seeing
Benigni, a politically controversial, but popular character in his homeland, is the first man since Sir Lawrence Olivier (1948) to win an Academy Award for acting in a film he has directed. This rare accolade is testimony to the simplicity and effectiveness of his writing and imagination. Financially, Life is Beatiful has also been very successful, grossing $59 million in America.
Many viewers may be put off a film that has subtitles, but this should not hold anyone back from La Vita E Bella. Italian is a wonderful language to listen to, even without understanding it, and, though it most certainly is not the mainstream choice, Roberto Benigni’s effort deserves to be rewarded. With beautifully and poetically written dialogue, scenes of photographic brilliance and a story which sets hearts racing in a strange blend of happiness and sadness, Life is Beautiful will not disappoint.