Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Review: Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful (La Bella É Vita) 
Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano, Horst Buchholz, Marisa Paredes, Sergio Bustric, Amerigo Fontani, Giuliana Lojodice, Pietro De Silva, Francesco Guzzo, Raffaella Lebboroni, Claudio Alfonsi, Gil Baroni, Massimo Bianchi 
Director: Roberto Benigni 
Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Melampo Cinematografica, Italy, 1997.
Life is beautiful (La Bella É Vita) title
In 1939 Fascist Italy happy-go-lucky guy Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) is driving on the countryside with his friend Ferrucio (Sergio Bustric). When their car breaks, Guido goes to a nearby house and falls in love with Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). Guido's uncle Eliseo (Giustino Durano) lives in the city and he is an antique dealer. Guido and Ferrucio go to city to find jobs. Guido likes to play pranks. He wants to open a book shop, but getting licenses takes years. Then Guido meets Dora again. Dora is a teacher and engaged to bureau chief Rodolfo (Amerigo Fontani). Guido gets a job as a waiter. He enjoys solving riddles with Doctor Lessing (Horst Buchholz).
Nicoletta Braschi and Roberto Benigni
Dora literally falls into Guido's lap
Romerto Benigni and Sergio Bustric
Guido and Ferruccio and their car
Amerigo Fontani and Nicoletta Braschi
Dora is unhappy with Rodolfo
Guido uses some Chaplinesque variations of Chekhov's gun principle to help him win the heart of Dora. The cheerful times are beginning to go away with spreading Nazism. Fascists start to harass Guido's Jewish uncle. However resourceful Guido manages to turn even that also to his advantage ridiculing the Fascists.

Some years later Dora and Guido are married and have son Giosúe (Giorgio Cantarini). Guido has a book shop. Despite times are harsh, Guido tries to keep his son happy with creative explanations. The hate against Jews forces him to close the book shop.
Guido and Dora in the rain
Roberto Benigni dog
And who ordered the dog?
Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini
Happy biking with the family
Then Guido and Giosúe are detained and taken to concentration camp. Guido explains that they are going on a surprise trip. Also Dora joins them voluntarily. Guido turns the grim situation into a game: if Giosúe does as he has been told and stays hidden from the guards he will get points and a winner gets a real tank! 
The prisoners working as slave labour
Guido in deep trouble
In history about four thousand of Italian Jews were taken to internment camps in Ferramonti or Campagna. However these camps were not similar as the Nazi concentration camps, internees were not killed or subjected to violence. The deportations of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps began after September 1943. The prisoners were taken to Fossoli camp, Risiera di San Sabba or Auschwitz and around 8000 of the Italian Jews were killed. 

Some critics have found the film controversial and presenting the Holocaust too lightly, or that maintaining optimism in concentration camps would be impossible. They are missing the point of the movie. Guido clearly sees that it is an evil place, he is put to slave labour and he knows that his friends are getting killed. Kids and old people disappear. In a fictional way it also tells how the concentration camp prisoners maintained their humanity: by using humour. There are documented cases where people at the concentration camps survived  and stayed sane because of humour and jokes ( and The movie does not hide the fact that Jews were killed in gas chambers. It would be unnecessary for the fablelike style of the movie to show all the horrors of the camps. The killings happen off screen, so the movie is a softer way to teach even younger kids about Holocaust. 

The movie is funny, deeply moving and bitter sweet. Guido is a man whose weapon against the Nazis is his creativeness and humour. Guido must keep his optimism, because it is the only way to keep his family alive. If he got depressed, refused to work and died it would also lead to destruction of his family. Even if Guido may face death he keeps his spirits up and hopes that things will get better for his family.

Rating: Excellent

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