Roberto Benigni’s 1997 comedy-drama Life is Beautiful is a cinematic masterpiece in all its glory.
It takes place in the Kingdom of Italy in 1939, following the story of Guido Orefice, an exceptionally witty and lovable Jewish bookstore owner. Guido runs into and falls in love with an upper-class woman, Dora, played by Nicoletta Braschi, with whom he sets up several “coincidental” meetings. Slowly but surely, she falls in love with the jovial and humble Guido, and the two start a family together. The first half of the movie revolves largely around Guido and Dora’s love story, and Benigni is able to make even the most mundane of scenes thoroughly enjoyable through a unique form of silent comedy.
The movie’s main conflict takes the viewer by shock, as Guido and his four-year-old son Giosue, played by Giorgio Cantarini, are taken into an unnamed concentration camp. Suddenly, Guido must protect his son, and his humor is his most powerful weapon.
The following part of the film continues to be tastefully humorous, with Benigni’s exaggerated gesticulations and Chaplin-style comedy, but also hauntingly tragic. Perhaps what makes it most impactful is Guido transforming the concentration camp into a game, in a sincere attempt to protect his son from the horrors of his new reality. Whoever gets to one thousand points first wins a huge tank, one of the adorable little boy’s greatest fantasies.
Benigni’s choice to create a comedy about the Holocaust has attracted a huge amount of controversy and criticism, with many critics arguing that he has “made a mockery” of the Holocaust. However, one must watch the film to understand that Benigni has in fact, done the exact opposite. With Benigni’s stellar acting, direction and the surprising yet perfect inclusion of comedic elements, Life is Beautiful is a film with a lasting impact comparable to that of Schindler’s List or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
The movie provides a glimpse into the horrors of one of history’s biggest tragedies, but that is far from the central focus of the film. Life is Beautiful is not a movie about Nazism, or Anti-Semitism, or even the Holocaust. It is a film showcasing the hope and humanity that shines through even in times of complete inhumanity. It is about the undying love between a mother, father, and child. It is about the sacrifices one makes for their children in times of violence and war, with the hope that their children live a life far more beautiful than their own.
Life is Beautiful is a must-watch movie in the true essence of the word. The tears and laughter that the bittersweet ending of the movie brings and the impact that it has will last much, much longer than the two hours for which it runs.
Aadya Aryal is the features editor for The Woodstocker
Edited by Janvi Poddar
Featured image from Kanopy.com