Movie Review

Life is Beautiful

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Holocaust-related thematic elements

Reviewed by: Artie Megibben
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
Foreign Comedy Drama
Length:
122 min.

Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giustino Durano, Sergio Bini Bustric, Marisa Paredes / Director: Roberto Benigni

Cover Graphic from Life is Beautiful

One is reminded of the innocent charm of the early silent films of Chaplin and Buster Keaton when viewing “Life is Beautiful”, Roberto Begnini’s Cannes-winning new film.

The movie opens in the hills of Tuscanny at the beginning of the second World War. Our hapless hero played by actor/writer/director Begnini meets a beautiful young teacher whom he woos with the help of Santa Maria and a few coincidences. The couple marry and produce a child. Italian fascism gives way to Nazi Anti-Semitism and the couple find themselves deported to a German concentration camp on the day of their son’s birthday. Through a series of imaginative lies and more coincidences, the clever father protects his son by convincing him that it is all an elaborate game. Poignantly, the audience sees that no matter how bizarre the father’s white lies become, nothing is more far-fetched and unbelievable than the horrible truth of ovens and genocide.

The movie does an amazing job of marrying the slapstick antics we’ve seen in films Begnini’s earlier “Johnny Toothpick”, with the tragedy of the Holocaust. And like movies such as “Schindler’s List” and “The Hiding Place”, it reminds us that modern man is neither basically good nor particularly evolved.

However, there is always hope even in the deepest pit. For Corrie Ten Boom, it was in knowing Christ. For a little Jewish boy, it was a Father who willingly sacrifices his own life and provides his son a sort “Hiding Place” in a myth that was more credible than the truth.

Year of Release—1998

Viewer Comments
I did not think a movie about the Holocaust could possibly be so funny and joyful. I took my 13 year-old son and we both enjoyed the movie very much. I was concerned that he would be put off by the sub-titles but we didn’t even notice them after the first few minutes.

Roberto Benigni’s acting and direction is flawless. His wife Nicoletta Braschi gives a luminous performance as the non-Jewish wife who chooses to share the fate of her husband and son. Several scenes in the movie point out the stupidity of racism. The schoolroom scene is especially hilarious in this regard.

My son and I caught ourselves laughing through-out the concentration camp scenes as the father weaves an increasingly imaginative and elaborate web of lies to keep his young son from realizing the horrific reality of their circumstances. For example the Nazi officials become “the mean guys who yell a lot,” one of the opposing “teams.” Begnini draws the audience into “the game” along with the young boy and yet maintains dramatic tension as we share the father’s awareness of the ever-present danger.

The horror and madness of the Holocaust is brought into focus through brief but powerful moments of truth that intrude into the father’s elaborate fantasy. Yet somehow he never gives way to despair. His imagination and resilience are the only way he can protect his son. This poignant story of love and self-sacrifice is worthy of viewing by Christians. Highly recommended.
—Kaeleen, age 34
The imagination and heart that guides him serves Guido well as his son and himself are deported to a labor camp as the Nazis take hold. When Dora hears of their imprisonment she unflinchingly demands to go with them and is sent to the same camp, but kept in a separate area for women.

In the midst of these unimaginable circumstances of poverty and bondage Guido takes on a seemingly impossible task: he sets his mind to protecting his child from the horrors that surround them in the camp—through his own pain and fear—and creates an alternate world filled with playfulness and intrigue.

He explains that they are going on a vacation and it is very exclusive; there will be contests and prizes and the grand prize will be a real tank (that the workers are busy building). After the boy hides in the barracks all day—because they are exterminating the children, the elderly and the infirm—Guido comes back with stories of games and competitions that have scored them hundreds of points closer to winning the tank.

No matter what happens or what the boy hears Guido fights to imbue his son with a sense that life can be beautiful anywhere and that innocence can be kept even in an earthly hell. He gives a lifetime of hope and memories to Giosué that are never forgotten.

Benigni shows that the power of love and family and imagination can conquer many hardships, and he weaves a wondrous tale around it. Life is Beautiful is deserving of every praise it has gotten and is one of the year’s best films. Indeed, a classic.
—Brian A. Gross
My husband and I absolutely loved this film. He is not fond of movies with subtitles, but after just a few minutes he was mesmerized and we both clung to every bit of the story line. Sweet and funny with a true message of love portrayed between a man and his wife and child.

Real tragedy is mixed in with the overpowering display of the love this man had for his son. I cannot usually sit through a movie more than once, but I really think that I could have seen this one again that same night. I did not see or hear anything I felt was offensive to myself as a Christian.
—Anne Marie, age 43