- Life is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella)
- Director: Roberto Benigni
- Year: 1997
When it was first released, Roberto Benigni's 1997 film Life is Beautiful caused some controversy for its use of comedy in depicting the holocaust. However, it went on to win three Academy Awards (including best foreign language film and best actor for Benigni), and is now one of the best known modern Italian films.
Roberto Benigni (who also directed and co-wrote the film) stars as Guido, a Jewish man from the countryside who moves to the city in order to open a bookshop. The first half of the film is a fairly light-hearted romantic comedy set in 1939, following Guido as he sets up his shop and romances Dora, a local schoolteacher (played by Benigni's wife Nicoletta Braschi). Guido is a relentless fabulist who, through a mixture of calculation and luck, creates a magical world for the people around him. He succeeds in seducing Dora, and the film jumps forwards several years to a point where they are married and have a young son, Giosué.
Soon afterwards, the family is arrested and taken to a concentration camp, where Guido and Giosué are separated from Dora. Guido begins to use his abilities as a fabulist first to convince Giosué that the inmates of the camp are only taking part in a game, and later in order to save his son's life. Here Guido's emotional manipulations become more chilling, as in a scene in which Giosué announces that he's sick of the game and wants to go home, and Guido must channel him into actually wanting to stay, before the boy can discover that he has no choice.
As relentless as the physical comedy was in the first half of the film, it becomes a sentimental memory compared to the more poignant humour of the second half. Many of the early events are recalled or alluded to during the time that Guido and Giosué spend at the camp, often to heartbreaking effect. Critics of the film suggest both that Life is Beautiful makes inappropriate fun of the holocaust, and that it is emotionally manipulative. Such accusations, when they are not entirely misfounded, perhaps miss the point of the film altogether.
Life is Beautiful is available on DVD in both the UK and the USA. The American version (region 1) comes with a featurette on the making of the film but the British DVD (region 2) is just the film.