Roberto Benigni’s movie “Life is beautiful” was a successful attempt of making a tragic-comedy. Roberto Benigni directed the movie, wrote it and acted in it. Previously, he worked as a comedian in several movies. The movie won many awards including, Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998 and an Oscar award for the best actor. The movie makes sure that as Benigni can very well make people laugh, he can also be a serious actor at the same time and is able to entertain people with his serious acting as well. Before I start writing about the movie, I would like to discuss the main idea of it.
World War II, its disasters, its effects on the people and of course on the country – both physically and psychologically is being discussed in the movie and Benigni was successful in depicting it in the movie. George Holmes in the chapter 10 of his book “The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy” has excellently defined that period of Italy’s history on which the movie was made. According to Holmes: “Italy had entered the war both materially and psychologically unprepared, uncertain about her war aims and about how they were to be achieved.
None the less the conviction that the war was represented some kind of spiritual apotheosis for Italy had been common to many interventionists, whether rightwing authoritarian like Salandra or democratic and reformist socialist like Bissolati. ” (pg 265) The movie’s first half was really comic and enjoyable but the second half, according to many critics, was very tragic as the most of it was shot in concentration camps, showing all the miseries people had during that period. But on the other side, a good compensation for the second half is the sweet love story of a lady Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life spouse) and a man (Benigni).
The love story prepares the viewers for the upcoming tragic drama. In short, the movie is a good way of informing about the daily life during war and how the victims have to bare the pains and pressures. It seems that the movie is a mixture of two movies, a comedy and a very light one in the first half and a very tragic and to some extent indigestible in the other half. The movie starts with a powerful comedy which had an impression that the movie contains humor, comedy, romance and nothing else.
The credit for this pretension goes to the production and direction team completely which did not let us think that the movie could contain those wretched scenes. The reason of plotting the movie this way might suggests that in the first half it prepares the viewers for the second half. It might be possible that the first half gives the viewers clue of attaching their sympathy with the main characters which would help them in understanding the last part of the movie. Roberto Benigni was successful in depicting the tragedy and sorrowfulness into comedy.
As in Nazi death camp, the way he turned that calamity into adventure is really admirable. In fact, this is the basis of the plot and all the characters did their best in it. The relationship of the father and a son sometimes brought tears into the eyes of the viewers as they were suffering from the torture and sometimes it also brought a smile on the positivity they kept throughout the movie. The name of the movie really meant it. “Life is Beautiful” doesn’t mean that whatever life gives to us is always beautiful, but how we perceive it actually make it beautiful or ugly.
It is always on the person that how he’s reacting to the events in the life he’s coming up to, and this is what this beautiful movie is trying to make us understand. The starting fifty minutes of the movie has a beautiful and a very pretty girl called la Principessa (the Princess) who is an elementary school teacher and is engaged to some Fascist officials. That was those fifty minutes which was the development of the movie. Viewers had to change their attitude towards the movie in those fifty minutes. It was a shift from an imponderous effect of movie to a farce.
No doubt, it could a shock for some people for a sudden change in the movie, but I think this is a best part of it and it’s also an essence of a good plot. A good plot doesn’t allow viewer or reader to predict its climax but yes, can give sometimes a clue. In this movie, “Life is beautiful”, the happiness in the starting till its fifty minutes, in a sense give a clue that the disaster and woefulness is still waiting for its turn! The credit of the shift of the movie goes to the xenophobic uncle of Guido. He is prejudiced and a narrow-minded guy for which Guido and his family had to suffer later.
The writer of the movie wrote this event and about his uncle in a very light manner, although its not. Guido’s shop was sooner labeled as a “Jewish store”. The couple has a five year old baby boy now named, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). This is the year 1945. “Jews and dogs aren’t allowed into the pastry shop”, this is what the son asks his father to be explained. The father was very well conscious of whatever was happening during the time. He had to protect his son from the mental disturbance in anyway and he started telling his son that whatever is happening is only a drama and has no reality in it.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to write: ‘No Spiders and No Visigoths Allowed”, father replied to son as he never wanted his son to be pressurized in that political situation. George Holmes says: “Emblematic of the Italian authorities’ attitude to its own soldiers was its behavior in respect of those Italians who had fallen prisoner to the Austrians and Germans. Of the 600,000 soldiers who became prisoners in the course of the war, more than 100,000 died in captivity-a far higher proportion than for any other country. ” (pg 267) The Guido’s family soon became imprisoned by the police.
They were taken to some prisoner-of-war camp. Dora took a difficult decision to move with her family instead of following them in the train. It was an abhorrent place. People there were made to perform laborious work like melting down the weapons and the weak ones, old ones and the children were made pouring down the water. According to George Holmes: “The war proved to be a shock of massive proportions, which tried the politically unstable, economically backward, and weakly united society to its limit and which bequeathed a legacy no one had been able to predict.
Indeed, the divisions which the war exposed and the lacerations which the conflict provoked would have consequences which went well beyond the Armistice of November 1918. ” (pg 264) The best thing of the movie which kept the interest of the viewers till the end is the fatherhood which never let his son feel fearful although living in the death camp. He kept on explaining that it was just a game and we are not supposed to lose it at any cost. He made sure his son by showing the numbers on his arm.
He told him that the bad people were not letting them to register them but he did it so that they can also enjoy the game. The son assimilated all as he is a child of five year only and he hasn’t learnt not to trust his father until now. Father told the son that the goal of the game is to score 1000 and the winner will get an original tank and not the toy with which Joshua plays with. The rules of the game kept on changing as the story moves on and the torture increases but mostly they used to play hide-and-seek, make believe and a rule called “silence”.
Simultaneously, the father kept on making sure the son that the police, in reality aren’t bad, and the way they behave is only because of the game. This attitude of a father of never letting a child know that from what torture they have been going through suggests a very pure, strong and trustworthy relationship of a father and son. Father also prepares his son for the future if he doesn’t get the food. He says that if he cries for the food, he’ll be failed. Throughout the time the father and son spend in the death camp, Guido made his son feel that they are on vacations.
“…Camp prisoners are all going to be “cooked in the oven” to become “buttons and soap” is one of the examples form the movie which Guido tell his son, almost depicting the tragedy into comic. Benigni deserves a special award on the part when he shows that he knows German and translates the orders to his son. When death was announced to the prisoners, the father introduced three new and FINAL rules to his son: “There are three cases in which you lose all your points,” he says. “One: Those who cry. Two: Those who want to see their mamma. Three: Those who are hungry and want some snack. Forget about it!
” According to some people it’s a cheapo way of letting the kid into dark till the end. Viewers have remarks that he should have told him at the end about the actual thing happening to them. But its too late to tell anything to the innocent kid now because it’s the end. An American was driving that tank which was arrived, and yes, Joshua really played well. In World War II, about 8,000 Italian Jews were imprisoned and murdered. The criticisms on Benigni are open after the movie. He depicted himself as an inhuman person who couldn’t feel the territory which the people went through during the World War II.
But on the other side of the picture, we also see people’s remarks saying that a person without a brave heart cannot think, write and act in a manner he did. He, through the period of World War II is trying to tell that no matter what circumstances you are present in, don’t let the life go out of your hands, as your life really worth to be lived! The theme of the movie “Life is beautiful” is also that a person will always try to protect his loved one in the difficult situation and never let him go in depression and this is what a father did to his son.
Benigni also depicts the value of family in this movie. He showed the real essence of fatherhood, a husband and a lover. Self sacrifice and believe in one-self is the other minor theme of the movie which kept the last part of the movie really active. It also gives us the lesson of being calm, active and reality based in all odds of the life. Although there was a terror and horror all around, he knew how to use his brain and where. It’s not easy for a person to maintain his spirits and powers in such a hectic situation of life.
This is not at all easy for a person to act like him in other situations, keeping the spirits and hopes high but what he tries to convinces is that its not even impossible. A person can make his life beautiful if he wants to, it’s all in his hands how he values the time he has. According to George Holmes: “The enthusiasm which greeted the Italian decision to end neutrality and intervene in the First World War was something which left a profound impression on observers;…” (pg 264) The above extract is the very starting part of Chapter 10 of the book, the title of the chapter is “Italy 1915-1945: Politics and Society”.
Just like the way viewers of the movie were drowned into the profound effect of the war, when we go through the book, the same way we indulge in the miseries of the War. Holmes has written it so well that a person could feel the pains himself as he’s experiencing it. As said earlier, the title “Life is beautiful”, is not just a title but it’s a message of Benigni to Holocaust. This is Benigni’s very positive approach that he is calling Life “beautiful” avoiding the facts that there are hell lot factors which can make a person perceive life very sorrowful and bad, especially a person who has tortured in a death camp.
According to Gerald Peary, Benigni only wanted to depict father’s love in his movie and this was the best way of depicting it. If his main focus would only be on imprisonment of the victims of the wars, he would have made a documentary or a real imitation sort of a movie. But he was not failed in depicting the sorrows, tears and torture of the prisoners in World War II and side by side he also successfully portrayed the social and cultural decline in Italy during that period. George Holmes has written a very well-embellished book on the history of Italy.
The book “The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy” has a rich material on whatever happened during World War II. It tells about the early days of Roman Empire in the beginning of 1990. He has given several pictures in the book to illustrate its culture and social ethical norms. The book tells us the story of the Italy from the Roman Empire till today. Italy did not exist as a separate individual political unit before a century ago but it had a rich culture. In fact, it always had a powerful culture which started from the period of Renaissance.
During the middle ages, the exporter from Florence, Venice and Genoa started their trading with Asia and Europe. After the nineteenth century, Italy was actually created and their political establishment started transcending. The twelve great leaders captivate the history and culture of Italy which is very well written in the above discussed book written by George Holmes. “Problems of reconversions and stabilization were exacerbated by the political tensions created in course of 1919.
Those tensions which had been present at the front between officers and soldiers were reproduced in civilian life in much of the same terms. Socialist party organizers never failed to point out that the war had been a useless slaughter, as they had always maintained, and that the Italian State before a heavy responsibility for this. ” (Holmes pg 268-269) Works Cited Holmes, George. (2001) The Oxford Illustrated History Stone, A. A. (2000). Escape from Auschwitz: ‘Life Is Beautiful’ turned the Holocaust into a sentimental fable. Psychiatric Times. 17(4).
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