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
by DAVID KEYES
Benigni captured the hearts of millions last year following
a big win with "Life Is Beautiful" at the Cannes Film Festival,
and when he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the movie's
Jewish father, it catapulted him into a spotlight that has
since then remained bright and focused. Maybe that's because
he revolutionized the way moviegoers tend to think about
foreign films--behind a language most of us cannot comprehend,
there was a movie in which the message was perfectly clear,
that even when times are at their worst, you can push yourself
into a spectrum of hope by holding onto dreams and aspirations.
hopes could also affect the future of your loved ones. In
the story, Benigni played a Jewish man named Guido, who
fell victim to the Holocaust, and had a son by his side
and a wife on the other lines. To protect their innocence
(most notably his son's), he sacrificed all of his fears
and held onto the dream for brighter days, shining rays
of hope onto the eyes of his confused child. To demolish
his son's alert fears, he turned the Holocaust into a game,
in which the Jewish were competing for a prize tank, and
the sharp orders barked by German swine were actually 'rules'
for competition. Coincidences, wisdom, and a heart of gold
rushed through our hearts at maximum velocity, and in the
wake of harsh criticisms and magnificent praises from international
and American critics, the film was nominated for Best Picture
at the 71st Annual Academy Awards.
did not win the prestigious picture award, but managed to
walk away with other Oscars, including one for Best Foreign
Film and another for Best Actor. Although it has been almost
half a year since its recognition, the movie remains popular
in America as it does overseas. Miramax, however, has somehow
arrived at the notion that viewers would appreciate translated
language over subtitles, and has released a newly-dubbed
version of the almost-immediate classic to North American
theaters recently. Like all those others, alas, this dub
fails in some of the most expected ways; a language that
means so much to the characters in the movie is suddenly
changed to satisfy the needs of the viewer, not to best
suit the movie's artistic merit. Words mislay their meaning,
character effort is lost behind translations, and the tale
as a whole is seemingly blanched. By dubbing the movie,
Benigni, his cast, and Miramax, apparently think that we're
all illiterate, and cannot understand a foreign movie unless
the language is spoken in English, when it was never meant
harsh words might not have been so harsh, if Benigni's film
did not depend on a precise location and dialect. Some dubs
actually work; there is, for instance, Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu
The Vampyre", which was filmed in German, but told a story
without specific place and time. Although the German version
is favorable, the English is not without strong quality,
either. This is because both versions focus emphasis on
things other than dialogue, and the sense of horrific dread
builds regardless of what language the characters speak.
But Benigni's film cannot attain that kind of success in
dub form, because Italy is his location, Italian is his
language. Changing the dialogue to English is a miscalculation,
not to mention unneeded.
get me wrong, though; "Life Is Beautiful" is an achievement
just as gorgeous as its title. I, after all, ranked it #11
on last year's best list, and gave it three-and-a-half stars.
My suggestion is to wait for the VHS or DVD release of the
movie in its preferred format--Italian with English subtitles.
Seeing it in theaters is a mystifying experience, but seeing
it spoken in a language significantly unfamiliar to its
characters is not a pretty sight.
Note: This film was first reviewed in January in accordance
to the original Italian version. For a critique based solely
on the movie's original qualities, please click
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.