Life Is Beautiful Essay

1953 words - 8 pages

Life is Beautiful, the Grand Prix winner at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, is much like two films in one. In tone, temperament, and intent, they are vastly different -- one is poignant and powerful, the other is light, airy, and a little silly. The movie is the product of Italian comic sensation Roberto Benigni, who wore three hats for Life is Beautiful: director, co-writer, and star. To date, this is Benigni's most substantive film, and it shows that, although he has forged an international reputation by making people laugh (Il Mostro, Son of the Pink Panther); he is equally capable of handling serious material.Life is Beautiful starts out like a typical Benigni film, with an energetic comedy sequence that features a runaway car and a mistaken identity. For the next forty-five minutes, the production tricks us into believing that it's nothing more than a pleasant romantic comedy set in Fascist Italy, with Guido (Benigni) seeking to woo a pretty girl, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's real-life spouse), away from her stuffy fiancé. Although the quotient of effective comedy during this portion of the movie is surprisingly low, with many of Benigni's trademark pratfalls in several funny scenes generating lots of laughter, it gives us an opportunity to get to know and like Guido and Dora. And forging a sympathetic link to them is crucial for the remainder of the picture to have the desired impact.A Nazi death camp provides an odd backdrop for a comedy, but Roberto Benigni makes his living playing oddballs. And the first half of La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) shows the goofy Italian comedian in his element as he woos and wows a woman he calls la Principessa (the Princess). Benigni, best known for his box office hit Johnny Stecchino and his role in Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law, directed the film and stars as Guido, a bookseller living in the Tuscan town of Arezzo during the German occupation. The princess is Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), an elementary school teacher who in addition to being the prettiest girl around also happens to be engaged to one of the local Italian Fascist officials.Fifty minutes into Life is Beautiful, there is a transition. It's a subtle moment, but it marks a shift from lightweight comedy to drama. Guido's uncle becomes the target of crude anti-Semitic graffiti, which the fun-loving younger man writes off as a joke. Of course, it isn't a joke, and soon Guido's bookshop is tagged a "Jewish store." The year is now 1945, and Guido and Dora have a five year-old son, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). And when he's about five he asks his father why Jews and dogs aren't allowed into the pastry shop. Guido is well aware of what is happening, and is determined to shield his son from the terrifying reality of the situation with a witty comical cover up. Dad explains that people are free and can make whatever rules they want, and that one hardware store in town doesn't let in Spaniards or horses. The game of averting tragedy with...

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