Life Is Beautiful is a film of two acts. In the first act we are introduced to our protagonist Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), a Jewish Italian man from the countryside who arrives in a Tuscan town in the hopes of setting up a book store. The film is predominantly comical, revolving around the charmingly funny Guido and his attempt to romance local school teacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). Although Dora has been promised by her mother to a well-to-do civil servant, she falls for Guido’s magical charms and his genuine affection for her.
The second act then begins years later. Guido and Dora are married with a son, Giosuè and World War II is under way. As Jews, Guido and his son are taken away from Guido’s book store and put on a train set for the concentration camps. Dora is not Jewish yet demands to board the train with her family. She is granted her wish but she is separated from her husband and her son.
The harsh realities of the camp are there for all to see. Guido refuses to let his son see what is right in front of him and creates an alternate version of events. He insists that all in the camp are there through choice and are competing for the grand prize of a real size tank. The prize is won by the first person to reach one thousand points. Guido declares to his son that points are awarded to those who do not cry, those who do not ask for food and, most importantly, those who hide when necessary. The lengths Guido goes to and the risks he takes in order to protect his son’s childhood innocence, and indeed his life, are truly touching. Add the original score (which won an Oscar) and the beautiful cinematography and the outcome is truly a masterpiece.
The film culminates with the American’s advance into the concentration camps. Although we don’t want to spoil the ending, one of the final scenes will truly make the hairs on your neck stand up.
A point of interest is the title of the film. It is taken from the last will and testament of Leon Trotsky – the first leader of the Red Army. Trotsky was in a safe house, destined to be assassinated, he had seen his children killed and knew Stalin’s men were coming for him. While writing his will he looked out of his window to see his wife tending the flowers in the garden. He wrote ‘despite everything, life is worth living – life is beautiful’.
Best performance: Roberto Benigni as Guido Orefice.
Best scene: Giosuè is greeted by the tank he believes he has won.
Best line: Guideo is mockingly translating for the German Officer to maintain the pretence to his son ‘I got so hungry I had a Jam sandwich, apricot… I wanted strawberry.
Watch this if you liked: Schindler’s List, The Monster, Pinocchio.