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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