“La vita e bella” is a 1997 Italian heart-warmer, directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. A Jewish bookshop owner, Guido Orifice uses his frivolous sense of humour in an attempt to keep his child’s innocence while at a concentration camp. This film was a huge success, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 71st Academy Awards, the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Like all great films, “Life is Beautiful” is best viewed without prior knowledge of key plot elements. One of my greatest pleasures in watching it was that I knew nothing of the film’s story. Therefore I will not give an entire plot summary, but rather discuss the story’s structure, the film’s performances, as well as its themes.
The movie is almost broken up into two Acts. The first and second halves of “Life is Beautiful” are as different from one another as they are necessary to each other. The first half is a witty yet romantic tale, which will keep you smiling the entire time. It isn’t until the film’s second half that the tone darkens, and the concentration camp comes into play.
Some may say that it seems like to different movies put together. I feel that this view isn’t accurate. Although the first act seems to be nothing but romance and joy, there is subtle foreshadowing that the plot will soon change. And without the light and comedic first act, the tone of the second act would seem inappropriate and peculiar. I understand why some would feel offended by the idea of a comedy set in the Holocaust, but Benigni seems to keep the audience in the perfect emotion throughout the film. Without one, the other half would seem incomplete, and without the (sometimes seemingly long) first act, we wouldn’t be in the right mood for the second act.
Among the incredibly strong cast, Roberto’s portrayal of Guido was my favorite. He seems to make joy out of the most horrifying situations. It is because of his elated character that we do see the beauty in life. Something you don’t realize until the very end is that Guido’s character is one of the most courageous character’s I have ever seen in film. The reason you don’t notice this bravery at first is because humour is not often perceived as courage, yet by the end of the film, Guido can be easily described as a hero.
Dora, Guido’s love interest, who may at first seem naïve, develops into a courageous mother the minute she steps onto the train to the concentration camp. Guido’s son, Giosue becomes a fundamental character in the film’s second half. Unaware of the real reason why he and his father are at the concentration camp, Giosue believes and trusts the reasons as to why his father says they are there. Giosue’s innocence is sweet and loveable. He makes you yearn for that innocence to not be lost.
In profound fashion, Guido personifies the quote “Life is what you make it”. It is an unexpected, oddly passionate yet deeply emotional portrayal of a father’s sacrificial love for his son. “Life is Beautiful” is one of the most unique films of the year. It is also one of the best. What Benigni’s film shows us is that even in the darkest times of our lives, life can always be beautiful.