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Life Is Beautiful

An Italian drama/comedy written by, directed by, and starring Roberto Benigni.

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5 star comedy - not so sharp on the Holocaust

  • Jul 15, 2003
Rating:
+5
There are very few films you can watch in a foreign language with subtitles which will make you laugh out loud. Life is Beautiful will do so from beginning to end. Benigni is a motor-mouthed genius, the script and screen play devilishly inventive and impishly funny all the way along.

It's certainly no flat-out rib-tickler: The experiences of a Jewish Italian waiter and his family in a concentration camp could hardly be wall to wall slapstick. (Well, in Mel Brooks' capable hands, maybe - but Benigni has bigger fish to fry than Mel Brooks ever did.)

HOWEVER, I was not so taken with the Holocaust element. For one thing, the film is deliberately surreal and derives much of its humour from patently improbable situations: Benigni's character, a lovable wag, spends the entire film getting away with things which would throw any mortal into hospital, jail or a santitorium. So there's inevitably an element of Hogan's Heroes about the Concentration Camp scenes. This is fine on the comedy level, of course, but it does undermine any more serious a points Benigni might be trying to make. And Life is Beautiful unquestionably does stoop to collect some cheap gravitas.

[Warning: Controversial View coming up:]

As an exercise in harrowing film-making, depicting the Holocaust is easy pickings. You don't need to be Spielberg or Polanksi to create an emotional wrecking-ball out of Dachau: the Nazis did that by themselves. You only have to have seen "The World At War" to realise that pure reportage of the Holocaust is horrifying enough without any dramatic push.

And, like it or not, Benigni does collect on this front. I don't think that detracts from the excellence of this film - which is, after all about what a father will do for his family - but I think it considerably skews the Deep & Meaningful Index readout.

Which is to say is that Life is Beautiful is a standout piece of cinema because of its wit, not because of its treatment of the Holocaust. What's more, it's the better for that. Comedy is a much harder trick to pull off than high drama.

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More Life Is Beautiful reviews
Quick Tip by . October 07, 2010
The way the camp life is handled in this film is repulsive. I think there might be ways to inject some humor, but the Buster Keaton manner was disgusting.
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
This film makes you laugh while showing a sad time in Italian history.
Quick Tip by . March 29, 2010
posted in Reel Overseas
Realistic life story that will make you laugh and cry! Great to see this masterpiece with older children.
review by . June 25, 2000
Pros: Heart Felt, Historical Film     Cons: Not 100% believable     Life as is beauty is in the eye of the beholder if you believe this film. In the face of unspeakable tragedy the main character tries to shield his son and wife from it all. In the larger sense, he succeeds but at his own peril. A poignant love story is the best way to sum this movie up.      A brillant Jewish waiter makes light of all of the negative elements in his life …
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Olly Buxton ()
Member Since: Sep 26, 2009
Last Login: Dec 22, 2010 09:37 PM UTC
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Wiki

Italy's rubber-faced funnyman Roberto Benigni accomplishes the impossible in his World War II comedy Life Is Beautiful: he shapes a simultaneously hilarious and haunting comedy out of the tragedy of the Holocaust. An international sensation and the most successful foreign language film in U.S. history, the picture also earned director-cowriter-star Benigni Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor. He plays the Jewish country boy Guido, a madcap romantic in Mussolini's Italy who wins the heart of his sweetheart (Benigni's real-life sweetie, Nicoletta Braschi) and raises a darling son (the adorable Giorgio Cantarini) in the shadow of fascism. When the Nazis ship the men off to a concentration camp in the waning days of the war, Guido is determined to shelter his son from the evils around them and convinces him they're in an elaborate contest to win (of all things) a tank. Guido tirelessly maintains the ruse with comic ingenuity, even as the horrors escalate and the camp's population continues to dwindle--all the more impetus to keep his son safe, secure, and, most of all, hidden. Benigni walks a fine line mining comedy from tragedy and his efforts are pure fantasy--he accomplishes feats no man could realistically pull off--both of which have drawn fire from a few critics. Yet for all its wacky humor and inventive gags, Life Is Beautiful is a moving and poignant tale of one father's sacrifice to save not just his young son's life but ...
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Details

Director: Roberto Benigni
Genre: Foreign
Release Date: October 23, 1998
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Roberto Benigni
Runtime: 116 minutes
Studio: Miramax Entertainment
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