La Vita È Bella (1997)

La Vita È Bella (1997)
  • Time: 122 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Roberto Benigni
  • Cast: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giustino Durano, Giorgio Cantarini


In 1930s Italy, a carefree Jewish book keeper named Guido starts a fairy tale life by courting and marrying a lovely woman from a nearby city. Guido and his wife have a son and live happily together until the occupation of Italy by German forces. In an attempt to hold his family together and help his son survive the horrors of a Jewish Concentration Camp, Guido imagines that the Holocaust is a game and that the grand prize for winning is a tank.

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  • A comedy set during the holocaust is an idea that might make a few people uncomfortable, but Roberto Benigni’s 1997 tragicomedy walks a fine line between being hilarious and showing one of the darker events of the 20th Century.

    Guido (Benigni) is a free spirit who moves from the country to work in the city with his uncle (Giustino Durano) at a big hotel. From his first day in the city, he falls in love with Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) and they have a tumultuous courting period. A few years later they have a son, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini), and Guido owns a book store. Around this time, Mussolini and Hitler are engaged in the European War and all the Jews are being taken to concentration camps. Guido and Joseph are among these people sent, along with Dora, who despite not being Jewish, pleads to go on the train. At the camp, Guido keeps Joshua’s spirits high by distracting him with games.

    This movie provides a fun and light vibe with lots of great gags that will make you laugh, but it has moments of tension, suspense and sheer horror. We are reminded at times of the anti-Semitism that was felt throughout Central Europe, by attacks on Guido and his uncle. During the scenes in the concentration camp, we are shielded from a lot of the atrocities committed, almost seeing things through the filter that Guido presents to Joshua. However, we do see the horrors of the gas chambers and one misty night when Guido is carrying a sleeping Joshua through the camp he encounters an enormous mound of dead bodies. Rather than scream at the horror he has just seen, he backs into the mist for fear of waking his son.

    Benigni’s performance in this film is very convincing. The comedian’s slapstick approach to the film is light-hearted and a lot of the gags in the first half of the film when he is trying to get Dora’s attention are hilarious and well played. He is also great when it comes to the serious scenes, showing true horror and fear when he hears what is happening to Jewish people. Benigni’s actual wife Nicoletta Braschi plays Dora and the chemistry is believable because it is real. Her performance is heart-wrenching at times, especially when she hears what happens to the children of the camp. Also Giorgio Cantarini is talented as Guido’s son and it’s disappointing that his career didn’t extend past a small role in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

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