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Sergio Bini Bustric
Pietro De Silva
Time: 110 mins.
Won Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Foreign Film and Best Dramatic Score. Nominations for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay.
If you've searched around my site enough, you know it's rare that I review a foreign movie. The main reason is, and I know it's trite and horrible, because of the subtitles. It's awful to say as a lover of cinema, but I just hate going to movies I have to read. The movies are supposed to be entertaining and enjoyable, not hard work. It's distracting to me to have to read the whole time just to understand what's going on. I find it takes me out of the experience, not allowing me to totally lose myself in what is going on up on the screen.
That said, I think it's one of the three reasons why I wasn't as blown away by this film as much as everyone else. I saw it because it's nominated for a slew of Oscars and I try to see all the nominated films so I can best cast my votes come Academy Awards time. The second is because I waited to long before seeing it. Who's to say if I would have liked it better before hearing all the hype. The third is Roberto's Begnini's performance. I know everyone is raving about him. I've heard that he's a comic genius and I'm sure he is. However, I thought he was just a little too aware of how clever he was throughout this film. Not only did he talk too fast, making me scramble to read faster, but his look at me, look how good I am performance was somewhat annoying. I know he's supposed to be cheering his son up and hiding the horrors of war, but it was just too much for me. This may be a fable, but he just didn't give his performance the weight I think it deserved.
The film begins with Guido (Begnini) literally bumping into Dora (Braschi) when she jumps out of a barn and into his arms. He calls her his princess and charms her out of some eggs from her farm. She gives them to him gladly. He did break her fall after all. He bumps into her again in the city where he learns she's a schoolteacher. She's happy to see him, which thrills Guido. She is the woman of his dreams. Guido works as a waiter at a local upscale hotel, where he befriends many of his clients due to his intelligence and charm. Guido tries to impress Dora whenever he can and even kidnaps her one evening after an opera performance. She is charmed by his bumbling attempts to keep her dry in a rainstorm with a pillow. It would be easy for her to fall in love with Guido, but she can't. She's already spoken for.
"This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me."
||That doesn't stop Guido. Working as a waiter at her engagement dinner, he bumps into her again under the table. They kiss and she begs him to rescue her. So he does. Atop his uncle's prize horse, painted green by jew-haters, he rides the horse into the dining hall and whisks her away to his humble abode. They couldn't be happier. The film flashes forwards to 4-5 years later when Italy has become overrun with Germans and Jews are rounded up and sent away. Guido has set up the little bookstore he always wanted, Dora is still teaching and they have a son Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). Except for the harrassment from local officials, everything seems to be going well for the family. That is until Joshua's birthday when the boy and his father are rounded up and taken to a concentration camp. Dora races to the train station and demands to be put on the train. She will not sit at home while her family suffers.
Once at the camp, Guido tries to convince his son that the trip and the camp are all part of an elaborate game in honor of his birthday. If Joshua is good and follows all the "rules" they will win a real live tank. Even when Joshua breaks the rules or hears rumors to the contrary, Guido is always able to bring him back into the fantasy, telling him that everyone else is just trying to psych Joshua out so that they win the tank. During their encarceration, he is also able to let Dora know, several times, that they are both OK, giving her the strength to keep going. Guido is able to keep his son alive and the charade going until the camp is liberated by the Americans. Though his father is nowhere to be found, he knows they won the game when he gets a ride home on an army tank, making their stay in the camp worth everything after all.
This movie has it's charms and it was an intriguing take on the Holocaust story. Begnini and Cantarini were wonderful together as a father and son just trying to make it through every day. Cantarini was amazing. It's always stunning to me when children give such powerful and natural performances. He is the heart of the film and believe me he'll steal yours. I understand that it's supposed to be a fable about how innocence survived horror, but it just wasn't deep enough for me. Granted Begnini had to put on a happy face for his son, so the seriousness of their situation wouldn't show through, but it just wasn't believable. Children may be extremely gullible, but this boy was old enough to figure our what was really happening around him. I don't care what his father was telling him.
On top of that, it's one thing for the boy to believe in the game, but for Guido it's unacceptable. He must know what is truly going on in the camp, but you never get to see him experience any pain or fear. One of the more horrifying and unbelievable scenes occurs when he orders Joshua to go "take a shower" like the other children. It's incomprehensible to me that Guido would not know what that truly meant and try to save Joshua from that fate. As it is, the only reason he isn't killed is because he hates to bathe and Guido is never able to force him to do things he doesn't like. How can his father truly protect him if he's unaware of the truth? It just didn't make sense. There's a big difference between being a clown or an idiot and unfortunately once they get to the camp, Guido becomes the latter.
I also didn't think the film had to end the way that it did. In fact, what happens to Guido is stupid and unneccesary. There's no reason for it. Begnini might have done it for dramatic effect, but it wasn't the right decision in my opinion. If you don't mind reading your films, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL is a flawed but interesting piece of work, that will make you think about love and survival. It also made me question the films' award nominations, but that's just me.