Review – Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella)

Roberto Benigni

1997

The Story of Guido: a loving clown living a care free existence in rural Italy. Early in the film he meets and falls for a local teacher and uses his natural charm and ‘magic powers’ to court and woo her. As the years follow we see him and his wife settle into a happy, quiet life with their young son. However, WWII is already in full swing and soon the Jewish Guido is taken, along with his son to a concentration camp. It is there that Guido decides he must use his bountiful imagination to help his son avoid the true horror of their circumstances.

The first half of the film is more or less a Charlie Chaplin-esque slapstick affair, with pratfalls, trips, spills and the rest.  It’s a testament to Benigni’s talent as an actor that it works. He is a much better actor than a director and it’s his skills as a comedian that keep us entertained. The second half, which focuses entirely on the family’s experience in the camp is darker but still the most pleasant concentration camp film you will ever see. This is not a criticism. The best scene in the film is when Guido, proclaiming to a Nazi commander that he can translate his German commands into Italian for the rest of the prisoners (he doesn’t speak a word of German), uses this opportunity to confirm to his son that all this is really just a fun game where first prize is a real tank. Though the film is too rushed and badly directed in the last 15 minutes it still leaves you with a feeling that you have just watched a film full of the love of life.

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