Life Is Beautiful
Rating -

Drama (Italy); 1998; Rated PG-13; 114 Minutes

Roberto Benigni: Guido Orefice
Nicoletta Braschi: Dora
Guistino Purano: Uncle
Sergio Bini Bustric: Ferruccio Orefice
Horst Buchholz: Dr. Lessing

Produced by Cianluigi Braschi, Mario Cotone, and Elda Ferri; Directed by Roberto Benigni; Screenwritten by Vincenzo Cerami and Roberto Benigni

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" is one of those films so touching and so magnificently directed that once you see it, you never forget it. Portrayed as an examination of the clown within the human soul, it succeeds in bringing tears to our eyes, and smiles to our faces, as our hearts our clenched with every scene that moves on the screen. It is a heartwarming opportunity in finding the good and beauty in life no matter what the situation is. Despite the harshness of life's ordeals, there can be happiness, a reason to live and hope for a better future.

In this case, we speak of the director and the actor, both of whom are Roberto Benigni. Here, he plays the charming and humorous Guido Orefice, a man who has about as many funny bones as Milton Berle. We meet him in the opening scene alongside a friend. The vehicle they are in apparently has no brakes, and once they realize it, the car is swerving onto a nearby road and directly into a crowd of people. They mistake him for a dignitary.

Once the scene is over and the film begins to progress, we meet Dora, who Guido calls his 'princess.' Our first encounter with her takes place outside near a barn, where she falls onto Guido in a stack of hay after failing to kill a wasp's nest. Guido charms the socks off of this simple yet intriguing woman, and in a series of coincidences, they accidentally bump into each other all around the city. Each incident is caused by some sort of disturbance that Guido has managed to brew up with a person in town. One of the funniest things is when he leans over a window and knocks a potted plant onto the town clerk's head. He rushes to his aid, removes his hat, and accidentally puts his eggs into it while he inspects that the victim of his blunder is okay. The clerk puts his hat back on, but (whoops!) the eggs are still in them. Running for his life on a bicycle, who does he crash into?

While Guido and Dora share most of the screen together, we also get to know a lot of other characters in the first half of the film. Guido works as a waiter at a nearby restaurant, and early on, he meets Lessing, a German doctor who loves riddles. In fact, both of them do, and through the majority of the movie together, they give each other numerous riddles to solve and contemplate. For instance, Guido puts this one on Lessing: if the seven Dwarfs want second helpings, what does Snow White feed them?

The first half of the movie is portrayed through several notoriously charming humor scenes, most of which involve Guido slowly wooing his princess, Dora. She tells him that, in order to get her to say yes to anything, he has to find the right key. Only Mary in the heavens above knows the answer. For Guido, that's a simple answer. He asks Mary for the key to her heart, and in two seconds, a key is in his hands, and it seems to have fallen from the heavens above (it's actually the key to his car, but the scene tries to create the illusion of a magic trick).

Once the humor has been provoked, the second part of the movie gets extremely sad. We learn that Guido is Jewish, and that the time period he lives in happens to be that era which Germany was in its darkest age: the holocaust. By this point, Guido and Dora are married, and they have a son with big bright eyes. Through another series of events leading up to their capture and journey to a concentration camp, Guido simply pretends that the whole thing is a game. He doesn't want his son to worry about any of the circumstances, so he makes up this story about the whole situation being a chance to earn points and get a prize. The reward, he says, is a real live tank. You see, Guido's son loves his miniature toy tank, and if there's anything he likes more, it's a real, life-size one.

The progression from comedy to sorrow is no easy one to tell, and we are warned of that in the first scene, when the dialogue from Guido's son tells us how difficult it is to tell such a story. Even though Guido is this clown who uses his gift of laughter as a defense to protect his son, his wife certainly knew what was going on. Although she wasn't Jewish, she requested to board the train to be with her husband and child. And even though, after that, the whole family never got to be together, it was a sacrifice that she'd never regret.

Some people try their best to protect their young. Some would stand in front of a hundred guns .and dance naked if it meant keeping their children alive. Guido is that man, that soul whose essence in life was to humor and entertain at the worst of times. Everything he did was for his wife and child. To hold onto that type of hope and happiness at a time like the holocaust is no small accomplishment. Indeed, his life was truly beautiful.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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