(La vita è bella)
Must-See Cinema! The concentration camp comedy that set worldwide box office records!
Beautifully told and attractively shot, Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful is both funny and moving, with an unusual shift in tone midway through. Fable-like, the film explores the power of laughter to lift the human spirit even in the face of extreme tragedy.
Set in Italy in 1939, amid a climate of growing anti-Semitism and fascism, the film follows Guido (Benigni), an enchanting, childlike man whose warmth and humour buoy him through various misadventures in the Tuscan town of Arezzo. The Chaplinesque Guido falls instantly for Dora (the luminous Nicoletta Braschi), a beautiful schoolteacher who finds him charming but is already promised to another man. Undettered, Guido pursues her, and in fairy-tale fashion, they fall in love and marry.
With key elements in place, the film moves into its second half where its fairy-tale opening gives way to a much darker storyline. Dora and Guido, now married a few years, have a young son. Italy has been overrun by Fascists who have been deporting Jews. When Guido and his son are sent to a concentration camp shortly before the war’s end, Dora voluntarily goes along though she is separated from her husband and son. Through it all, Guido is determined to protect his son from the harsh reality they face, and uses his humour and imagination to concoct games and stories to keep the boy’s spirits up.
Life Is Beautiful is bittersweet and undeniably moving. Although the mood shift is surprising and extremely risky, it works, thanks to the guiding force of Benigni’s beautiful characterization.
– Lael Loewenstein, Box Office Magazine