Life Is Beautiful

Life Is Beautiful

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There is nothing funny about the Holocaust. A little man's attempt to protect his son by pretending that a concentration camp is a game takes humour to the very edge. Writer/director/actor Roberto Benigni has been internationally acclaimed for his courage. To tackle such a subject in a light-hearted way is either insensitive, or inspirational. You choose.

The year is 1939. Guido (Benigni) comes to Arezzo, Tuscany, to start a bookshop. Having no money, he works as a waiter and falls in love with Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a teacher, who is engaged to a fascist bureaucrat. After slapstick and heartache, he wins her and they marry and have a son, Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Five years later, when persecution of Jews is in full swing, Guido and Giosue are grabbed. Dora insists on joining them. At the camp Guido smuggles Giosue into the shed he shares with other prisoners and makes up a hide-and-seek game - not much seek - to save the boy's life.

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Benigni calls this a fable and does not attempt a Spielberg reconstruction job. The line between laughter and tears is uncomfortably close. The character of Guido is the only half humourous thing about the second half. Lying to the boy is a hard one to maintain. The other children have already been killed. You worry for Giosue, because his dad is such a fool, rather than sympathising with Guido for keeping cheerful. Admiration is tempered by feelings of unease. Images of the camp stay longer than memories of sunlit days in Arezzo.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A man treats a concentration camp as a game to protect his son.
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Director: Roberto Benigni

Writer: Roberto Benigni, Vincenzo Cerami

Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano, Sergio Bini Bustric, Marisa Paredes, Horst Buchholz, Lidia Alfonsi

Year: 1998

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Italy

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