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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Review – My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, Tonari no Totoro)

Miyazaki Hayao

1988

Two sisters move into a new house in the countryside with their father while their mother is in a nearby hospital being treated for an unnamed illness. Very soon after moving in they realise the house is haunted with magical creatures, but rather than eschewing the spirits they welcome them and, before long they meet and fall in love with Totoro.

My Neighbour Totoro was Studio Ghibli’s third film (It shared a double bill with Grave of the Fireflies, which must be one of the greatest double bills of all time) and has become its international mascot. It is one of the purest and most innocent films you will ever see. Over the years since it’s release it has become more than a film. It seems more akin to a classic children’s novel. The relationships in the film are so natural and convincing; The two sisters whilst playing have such an instinctive and authentic love you believe they would do anything for each other.  The animation is beautifully developed. Everything from the family’s house to the grass in the garden to Totoro’s lair is meticulously drawn by hand with incredible attention to detail. The scene with the two girls and Totoro in the rain at the bus stop has become symbolic of Ghibli’s style and is still a stand out piece of animation and stands alongside some of the best animated and live action scenes in the history of film. One to watch if you love life, films or animation.