A masterpiece as joyful as it is deeply touching


PG-13 | 1h 56min | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 1997

Comedies that feature sensitive topics such as the Holocaust were more common. When done right, filmmakers with a heart in the right place (and the talent to succeed) have always known that comedy is a great way not only to break down barriers between people, but also to provoke discussion and to draw attention to important historical events and cause.

But lately these types of films have become scarce. The only one that comes to mind lately that successfully merges the seemingly weird comrades of comedy and horrific tragedy is that of 2019 “Bunny Jojo”—About a member of the Hitler Youth who discovers that her mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.

But a 1997 film covered some of the same ground but in an ingeniously different way. “Life Is Beautiful” was written, directed by and performed by Roberto Benigni. It skillfully combines a brilliant comedic tone with the brutal nightmare suffered by the Jews as they were systematically rounded up and sent to the Nazi death camps.

Before and at camp

The film begins in 1939, with the wild imaginations of Guido Orefice (Benigni) and his boyfriend Ferruccio (Sergio Bini Bustric) traveling to Tuscany in their native Italy. Both are from the countryside and want to move to a big city for better opportunities. Guido plans to work as a waiter in his wealthy uncle’s fancy hotel until he can afford to open a bookstore.

Almost immediately, Guido meets (or rather catches) the woman who will become his main love interest, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), as she falls from a barn after being stung by a wasp. The entire first act of the film revolves around Guido’s frequent encounters with Dora and displays his buffoonish humor that wraps around a deceptively insightful mind. We also get a glimpse of fascist Italy and the high society society embracing it.

One of the top creams is none other than Dora’s fiancé, Amico (Claudio Alfonsi). An ethically compromised sycophant, Amico accidentally refuses Guido a loan that would have allowed him to open a bookstore.

Dora ends up falling in love with Guido’s contagious personality, as well as his constant and sincere affection for her, something she cannot find with Amico. Guido takes her away and the two get married.

The second act of the film begins years later. Guido and Dora are now married and live a happy and peaceful family life in Tuscany with their lovely young son Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini). But we quickly discover that things are far from idyllic.

Although Guido realized his dream of owning a bookstore, the Nazis settled in the city and increasingly harass and intimidate Jews. Our hero is Jewish.

Two unofficial-looking men arrive at the bookstore and ask Guido to accompany them to the prefect, a senior administrative officer. Later, when Guido returns to his store to close, he sees the words “JEWISH STORE” scrawled across the building.

Things go from bad to worse when the Nazis start rounding up the city’s Jews, including Guido and Giosué. In one of the movie’s most powerful scenes, Dora returns home one afternoon and finds everything messy. She takes a few steps back in shock and quickly deduces that her husband and her son have been swept away by the roundups.

Guido and Giosué are then seen in a line leading to a boxcar heading for a concentration camp. When little Giosué begins to ask questions about the train, Guido skillfully gives false answers; he makes the two go on an exclusive trip and lucky to have the last two tickets.

As the train leaves, Dora arrives and insists that she also board one of the wagons. But when the train arrives at the camp, Guido and Dora only see each other briefly before being separated into zones by gender.

Managing to hide his son from the Nazis, Guido develops the illusion he created for the boy in order to protect him from the cruelty of their environment. He tells Giosue that they are involved in a big, elaborate game and that they can only win if Giosue follows the rules and thus earns points. Once they reach 1000 points, they win.

Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini, L) and his father, Guido (Roberto Benigni), in a Nazi extermination camp. (Miramax Films)

I won’t spoil the rest of the movie. Let’s just say it’s filled with a mixture of laughs and tears, but ultimately an uplifting story of limitless family love, as well as selflessness and selflessness in the face of relentless evil.

Watching Guido as a slave during brutal forced labor inspired me to do more in-depth research into Nazi concentration camps, Benito Mussolini’s Italy, and other facets of this place and time. Perhaps that was the kind of stimulating research that the filmmakers of “La vie est belle” intended.

With outstanding performances from its main cast of Benigni, Braschi and Cantarini, all of the supporting cast, and incredibly careful handling of sensitive topics, it’s no wonder this film is considered a masterpiece. .

“Life is beautiful (La Vita è Bella)”
Director: Roberto Benigni
With: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Rated: PG-13
Length :: 1 hour 56 minutes
Release date: 1997
Rated: 5 out of 5 stars

Ian Kane is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and author. To learn more, visit DreamFlightEnt.com or contact him at Twitter.com/ImIanKane