Today: July 11, 2024

Life Is Beautiful

Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s 1997 multi-Oscar winning triumph is a timeless modern fairytale.

Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s 1997
multi-Oscar winning triumph is a timeless modern fairytale.
Set
in 1930s Italy, Benigni plays the ingenious and good natured Guido. When the beautiful Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s wife)
literally falls out of the sky and into his arms, Guido is instantly smitten. A series of gloriously fortunate events
later the couple are married and have a son, and look likely to live happily
ever after. However, after this
uplifting opening the story takes a dark turn, as the Nazi’s whisk the young
family off to a concentration camp.
There Guido must use his vivid imagination to protect his wife and son
from the surrounding horrors.

The first half of the
film is crafted with such delightful creativity that the title seems beyond
apt. Said title in fact originates
from a quote by a holocaust survivor; a quote that helped to convince the
filmmakers that it wasn’t inappropriate to make a comedy set during one of
history’s darkest chapters.

Benigni’s slapstick
combined with clever narrative contrivances make the opening hour fly by like a
dream. The film’s tone then
changes suddenly from a light and summery comedy, to a dark and harrowing
recreation of the holocaust. This
transition is jarring, perhaps deliberately so in order to contrast the
graveness of the second half with the beauty of the first. With desperate heroism Guido maintains
a ruse to his son that in fact they have gone to a holiday resort, where they
must a play a game and win points.
The implausibility of the story that seemed so appropriate earlier in
the film, doesn’t quite work from this point onward. The filmmakers clearly realised this, because narration was
added later to further explain that the story was intended as a fairytale.

All the contrivances, however brilliant, can’t help but add up to something
of a predictable finale; a finale that highlights the one dimensionality of
Guido as a character. But, the
writing is such and the point of the story so obvious and noble, that these
flaws can be overlooked.

The cast is uniformly
fantastic, from Benigni’s heartwarming and Oscar winning central performance,
to Giorgio Cantarini’s sublime
debut as his little son.
Interestingly, Cantarini went on to play the son of Maximus in Gladiator, likely giving him the finest
filmography of any eight year old at the time! Nicoletta Braschi
also shines as Guido’s devoted wife, playing her part perfectly in one of the
most wonderfully touching romances ever seen on the silver screen.

The magic and warmth of Nicola
Piovani
’s unforgettable score makes it perhaps the most deserving of the
film’s three Academy Awards, and the sumptuous and emotive
cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli
gives the film a classical and non-gratuitous feel, particularly in the later
and most horrifying scenes.

Life Is Beautiful is an enchanting fable, and one of the most successful
non-English language films to date.
Uniquely poignant and full of joy, it firmly deserves its reputation as
a must-see latter-day classic.

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