Life is Beautiful or La vita è bella (1997)
Directed by Roberto Benigni
Written by Vincenzo Cerami, Roberto Benigni
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Guido (Benigni) is a hopeless romantic with an endless supply of humor and positivity. With his wife Dora (Braschi), he’s raising their son Joshua (Cantarini) in a world of wonder. When the Nazi’s invade their small town, this Jewish family is torn apart as they’re taken to concentration camps. Now Guido has redirected his humor and energy into protecting Joshua from the horrors of the camp.
This came as a labor of love for Roberto Benigni, who wrote, directed and starred in the film. He was aided in writing the screenplay by award-winning writer, Vincenzo Cerami (The Tiger and the Snow). The cast of the movie also features Nicoletta Braschi (Down By Law) and Giorgio Cantarini (Gladiator). The movie was a massive success at the box office and among the critics, winning three Oscars out of seven nominations. The wins included Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor, and Best Original Score. The other nominations included Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Editing.
The story behind this wonderful movie is a unique and powerful look at the cost of the Holocaust. Instead of allowing the politics of the bigger picture into the movie, the film stays simple, focusing on the human cost. The script allows for humor that might have been offensive had it not been so perfectly written. This also allows the movie to remain lighter in tone than it might have been. This is not to say that the essence of the war and the atrocities are lost in it, but that they don’t overwhelm the story of a man and his family. That simple focus brings out a story of love, sacrifice, and pure emotion that is nothing but beautiful in its execution.
The acting in this movie is wonderful. Benigni leads the way with a masterful performance that earned him an Oscar. His natural charisma and energy become the essence of Guido. Beneath his over-the-top performance is a clear sense of love, compassion, and often fear. These emotions carry the movie along wonderfully. The work of Nicoletta Braschi is also really great. She manages to hold her own with Benigni without every seeming to compete with his delivery. Instead she becomes a great counterbalance in the movie that helps the relationship between Dora and Guido feel genuine. Finally, the young Joshua was portrayed by a very talented young Giorgio Cantarini. He does a great job with his role in the movie, especially for being only four when production began. The rest of the cast does a good job, but the focus of the story is clearly on this little family, and it works nicely. For his part, Roberto Benigni earned an Oscar for Best Actor. Here is his acceptance speech, one of the best ever given.
This film has a beautiful score that works to accentuate the highs and lows of the story. Like most great scores, this music is timeless and fits in with every aspect of the movie. This includes fitting in with the sets, locations, and costumes used in this movie. With the great editing work, this is a well-rounded wonderful film.
This is one of my favorite movies of all-time. The story is emotional, strong, and poignant. The acting embodies all of the emotion the story needs to communicate to the audience. Despite being a movie about an optimist, this is truly a story about sacrifice and love. Everything seems to fall in place for this to be wonderful. If you’re a fan of great drama, this is one you need to see. I would also suggest this to fans of foreign films or war movies. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.