Life Is Beautiful (La Vita é bella) (1997)
Reviewed on 2007 February 9
Once you can get past the slapsticky comedy in the first half of the movie, it’s actually very good and very moving.
Roberto Benigni plays Guido Orefice, an Italian man who has his heart set on two things: opening a book store and winning the heart of his princess, Dora (played by his real-life wife Nicoletta Braschi). It’s right before World War II, and Guido deals with the anti-Semitism around him (he’s Jewish) by lampooning bigoted idiots. Guido’s a goof but he’s not dumb. On a good day he can do it their faces and they don’t notice.
Dora is engaged to another man, but her fiance is a stuffed shirt that doesn’t seem to care about her happiness (not to mention he’s a fascist oink), and she falls for the silly but sweet Guido. He gets his princess and his bookstore, and they have a beautiful son, Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini). As fascism rises, Guido tries sheltering Giosué from the hate around him. When they’re taken to a concentration camp, he does the thing that he thinks will keep his son alive: he pretends it’s a game, and Giosué has to do everything he says in order to win. This means showing no fear, no crying, hiding when Daddy says to hide…
Benigni cowrote and directed this. The slapsticky stuff isn’t my thing, but when he’s calmer I think he’s pretty funny (hey, he’s going to ban some people from his store, so there), and when he’s serious he’s a very good actor. Watch the scene right after the rain, where he’s pouring his heart out to Dora — no wonder she fell for him. When he’s “translating” for the German guard it’s funny but heart-wrenching; you can see the fear in his eyes. And Cantarini is adorable and did a great job as Giosué.
Three chocolate morsels.