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Life is Beautiful

A review of the movie titled "Life is Beautiful"

Life is beautiful (La Vita è bella) winner of the Grand jury prize in Cannes Film Festival and many other prestigious awards. It stars Italy’s comic legend Roberto Benigni as Guido Orefice an Italian Jew during the Nazi Regime. The film received both accolades and criticisms. Gerald Peary is one of the harsh critics of the film describing it as blasphemous and having obscene Holocaust misrepresentations. However the film received praises from the non-Jewish and Jewish communities. Abraham Foxman described the film as poignant, sensitive, and informative by creative genius thus giving it an endorsement to the Italian Jewish community. Same, in the Jerusalem Report, Daniel Kotzin reviews that Life is beautiful has no slips and the poignant balanced is maintained.[1] (Viano, 1999)

The movie has two settings; the first one is on 1939 pre-war in Arezzo, Italy and the second one is in a Jewish concentration camp. It sounds like Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, but it’s a totally different film. The film uses a comedic tone to tell a story against the backdrop of Holocaust.[2] (Huston, 1998)

Guido an Italian Jewish, together with his poet friend Ferrucio went to the town of Arezzo in Tuscany from the country to seek good fortune. He has a beautiful way in looking at life. He is not pessimistic and never looks at things negatively. He doesn’t want the people around him feel the weight of the situations that’s why he always shows his happy demeanor

The film begins as a farce and fairy-tale romantic comedy. The first scene immediately sets a comedic tone for the film, as well as, dabbling political realities when Guido and Ferrucio’s runaway car fails its brakes, and went downhill. Guido waves them away but his gestures are interpreted by the Facists as a greeting thus returning it with a wave. [3](“CGK,” 1999) Thereafter, Guido met Dora, an upper-class woman who literally falls in the arms of Guido, as he and Ferrucio are fixing their car brakes on a farm. [4](Karten, 1998)

Guido went to work at his Uncle Eliseo’s restaurant. He has a dream of owning a book shop. One of the slapstick scenes was when he applied for a permit to open a book shop and the Facist clerk, who happens to be Dora’s fiancé, won’t sign the papers. Guido accidentally drops a pot on top of the clerk’s head. He immediately apologizes, however he put the eggs he got on the farm on the clerk’s hat. The eggs cracked on the clerk’s head, thus prompting him to chase Guido. Fortunately for Guido he met again Dora whom he calls Princepessa.

Dora is a gentile, upper-class woman who seems to have all the things in the world. She works as an elementary teacher and is promised to the facist clerk. However, she is not happy with the engagement.

Guido met Dr. Lessing, a German doctor who is obsessed with riddles. He makes friends with Dr. Lessing and shares his love for riddles. [5](Ebert, 1998) Guido showed his resourcefulness and quick thinking when a customer arrived late in the restaurant and was able to suggest exactly what was already prepared for the customer, the food served was one that Dr. Lessing did not eat because of the riddle. Another scene in which Guido has shown resourcefulness is when he pretended to be a school Inspector from Rome in order to see his Princepessa, Dora. Guido turns the inspection into a humorous prank when the principal said that he would discuss racial perfection, he talked to the class about racial perfection and makes a humorous prank about the topic by pointing out his features and ending it by exiting through the window. Guido’s hat switching and getting Dora to ride the car by accident are the things he did on that rainy night red carpet evening to show coincidence and makes it appear as divine intervention. Manipulation and coincidences are also apparent in the latter part of the film; it foreshadows how Guido will deal to keep their son from the horrors of concentration camp. Another scene which foreshadows the second part is when Dora’s colleague discusses a math problem that she finds hard for students to answer. The difficulty of the question upsets her colleague not the fact that the problem contains eliminating people.[6] (“CGK,” 1999)

Another comical scene is when Guido rides his uncle’s stallion, named Robin Hood that is spattered with green paint by the facist hoodlums and goes to the engagement party of Dora, and rescues her. [7](Alleva, 1999)

Years later, Dora and Guido had a five-year old son, Giosue. Just like any five-year old Giosue is playful he loves toy cars especially tanks. Giosue is a very obedient and inquisitive boy. He always follows and believes his Pop, but at the same time always asks questions. He can be stubborn especially if it involves taking a bath which benefited him on the latter part of the film.  

The second part of the film changes the tone and mood from romantic comedy to a sentimental tragic comedy. On the eve of Giosue’s fifth birthday while walking on their way home Guido and Giosue encounter a sign in the pastry shop that says “No Jews or Dogs.”  Giosue then asks why Jews are not allowed inside the shop, Guido tells his son that people can make any rules they want and pointed out that one hardware store in town does not allow Spaniards to come in and a drugstore that doesn’t allow Chinese or kangaroos to enter.  His son asks why they let everyone in the bookstore come in, Guido promises Giosue that: “Tomorrow we’re going to write: No spiders and No Visigoths allowed.”[8] (Burke, 1998)

Uncle Eliseo, Guido and Giosue were shipped to the concentration camps. When Giosue started to ask questions Guido constructs a story in order to protect his son’s innocence. He explains that they are going on a vacation that he prepared and they are going to ride on a train. [9](Ebert, 1998) The fatherly love and paternal instincts of Guido continued until they reach the concentration camps. He creates a story and told Giosue that they are all in a game, but a rough one, and the first one who reaches one thousand points wins a prize, a real tank.

One of the comic highlights of the film is when Guido volunteers to translate the German language to Italian even though he doesn’t understand it, in order to convince his son, Giosue that they are in a real game. [10](“CGK,” 1999)

On the other hand, when Dora learned that her family was sent to the concentration camp. She ordered the guards to let her come even if she is not Jewish. Dora has shown courage and love for her husband and son by following them in the concentration camp and be in danger rather than be safe but separated from her family.

On one scene Giosue stubbornly refuses to take a “shower” with the other kids even if Guido insisted that he must. Fortunately, Giosue’s stubbornness pays off because he was spared from death.[11] (“CGK,” 1999)

One of the most heartwarming scenes is when Guido and Giosue sneaked on the radio of the Nazis and greeted Dora on air. When Giosue wanted to go home Guido concocts another story telling him that they are already leading. And if they are going home they will not take home the tank and Giosue wanting to have the tank suggested to stay in the camp.

One of the sad scenes is when Uncle Eliseo is to be put in a gas chamber and a female Nazi guard trips in front of him, and he helps her get up because of kindness, but the female guard did not even acknowledge what he has done. Another tragic scene is during a routine check-up Guido met again Dr. Lessing, the riddle-obsessed man he befriended in his uncle’s restaurant. He makes an effort to meet Guido by arranging him to become a waiter in a Nazi party. Guido having his hopes set high for his family’s safety were become a disappointment when Dr. Lessing only wants his help for a riddle that was sent to him from Austria. [12](“CGK,” 1999)

When Guido arrived from forced labor Giosue told his father that the soldiers will “make soap and buttons out of them” and “cook them in the oven,” Guido laughed it off although at the back of his mind Giosue is telling the truth, he instead by saying it would be absurd to imagine “this button is Francesco” and “that piece of wood is a lawyer.” Giosue an obedient child he was, trusted and believed what his father said. [13](Karten, 1998)

The scenes approaching the climax of the film is when Guido tells his son Giosue to hide in the metal box which earlier a boy named Schwanz hid. Giosue said that the boy must be still inside; he said that Schwanz was already eliminated and they are approaching their win. He instructed to his son to stay inside the metal box and not go outside until there are no people around. After that Guido looks for his wife, Dora so that he could warn her not to ride on the trucks because it will lead her to death. He successfully escapes the guards and managed to inform Dora about the trucks. But, he eventually got caught. Giosue sees it but Guido continued to play like a clown and maintained the illusion that there is nothing wrong. But Guido’s illusion and fantasy died when the soldier shot him.

The next morning, the Jews were liberated when the American troops arrived in the concentration camp. Giosue followed what his father said and went out of the metal box when there were no people around. Giosue’s still believe that they are in the game and when a US tank arrived he thought they had one and was even able to ride it. Giosue was reunited with his Mom, shouting “We won!”

Guido is a character that shows a profound love for his son Giosue. He will do anything to protect his son from the gas chambers by using his weapons; his resourcefulness and quick thinking. He was able to stay positive and optimistic amidst the negativity that surrounds him.  He successfully hid Giosue from the reality of the concentration camps and was able to retain his innocence.

Dora is a very brave and unselfish character; she courageously followed her husband and child in the concentration camps instead of staying behind. She had chosen to follow her loved ones in danger than face separation.

Giosue is a very obedient and stubborn little boy. He trusts and believes his father very much and because of this his life was spared and his innocence was retained despite of the violence that surrounds him.

Dr. Lessing the Nazi official whom Guido befriended because both of them love riddles. He is obsessed with riddles and oblivious to what is happening around him, especially the situations of the Jews on the camp. Dr. Lessing represents each and every one of us, when we focus more on our little problems and ignoring the people around us who are less fortunate and needs help.

The tragic catharsis in this film is when Guido was shot and the next day was the liberation of the Jews. You feel sad because you wish that Guido will just popped out and surprise his family but at the same time you feel happiness because Giosue kept his innocence intact, and all throughout the time they are in the concentration camp until liberation, he believed that they are still in the game. And most especially, Giosue was reunited with his Mom. By keeping the spirits of Dora and Giosue alive, Guido managed to save his wife and son’s lives.

The film shows the astonishing beauty of the human spirit, the ability of a person to maintain his optimism despite the fact that despair is all over. The tight bond and great love existing between the father, mother and son traits that enabled Guido, Dora and Giosue to cope in the harsh life in the concentration camps.    

Life is beautiful is a story about a father’s love and the lengths he will do to protect his child from death. It is a moving tale about maintaining one’s optimism while in the midst of desperation.

The film tackles humanity vs. inhumanity and a number of people do not think it is possible for a person to remain unbroken whenever he faces trials. The love of Guido for his son will always be stronger than the rifles and guns of the Nazis. Guido managed to remain light-hearted even if he is really frightened about his family.

Guido is one of the characters that exemplify true courage. But unlike other courageous characters on film Guido’s isn’t obvious, because he associated courage with humor which is not normally done, the underlying motivation of Guido in using humor to show bravery. Guido shows a profound love for Giosue. Guido used his paternal instinct to shield his son from harm even risking his life. He undergoes physical and psychological abuse in the concentration camp each day. But it changes every time he sees his son he gets the strength to appear light-spirited. It is a passionate and emotional portrayal of a father’s love to his son.  The film shows the audience that in the midst of inhumanity and despair, life still remains beautiful. [14](Huston, 2006)

The film title came from the quote of Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary, he wrote, “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it all of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.”[15] (“wikipedia,” 2006) Guido just like Trotsky thinks life is beautiful even though he knows that one of those days in the concentration camp, his family will die.

This is a movie about human spirit. Guido is not only a funny character on the film but also a loving husband and father. The measure he does just to protect them is very risky but he doesn’t care. The mere sight of his son smiling and the fact that his wife is still alive takes all his fears at the backseat.

The expression Dai! La Vita è bella (Come on! Life is beautiful) is usually used to cheer and make someone smile. The title Life is beautiful is a great example of showing a person, in the character of Guido, who celebrated the beauty of his life under such oppressive and negative situation. [16](Viano, 1999)

[1] Viano, Maurizio. “Life is Beautiful: Reception, Allegory and Holocaust Laughter.”  Jewish Social Studies  5.3 (1999)

[2] Huston, Jeffrey. Vita è bella, La.  1998. 5 Sept. 2006 <www. reviews.imdb.com>

[3] Film Commentary by CGK. Life is beautiful (1997). 1999. 5 Sept. 2006 <www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/1204/libeaut.htm>

[4] Karten, Harvey S. Life is Beautiful. 1998. 5 Sept. 2006. <www.reviews.imdb.com>

[5] Ebert, Roger. Life is Beautiful. 1998. 5 Sept. 2006 <www. Rogerebert.suntimes.com>

[6] Film Commentary by CGK. Life is beautiful (1997). 1999. 5 Sept. 2006 <www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/1204/libeaut.htm>

[7] Alleva, Richard. “Nothing To Laugh About.” Commonweal. 136.6 (1999)    

[8] Burke, Gregg. It’s a Beautiful Life.  1998. 5 Sept. 2006. <www.time.com>

[9] Ebert, Roger. Life is Beautiful. 1998. 5 Sept. 2006 <www. Rogerebert.suntimes.com>

[10]Film Commentary by CGK. Life is beautiful (1997). 1999. 5 Sept. 2006 <www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/1204/libeaut.htm>

[11] Film Commentary by CGK. Life is beautiful (1997). 1999. 5 Sept. 2006 <www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/1204/libeaut.htm>

[12] Film Commentary by CGK. Life is beautiful (1997). 1999. 5 Sept. 2006 <www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/1204/libeaut.htm>

[13] Karten, Harvey S. Life is Beautiful. 1998. 5 Sept. 2006. <www.reviews.imdb.com>

[14]Huston, Jeffrey. Vita è bella, La.  1998. 5 Sept. 2006 <www. reviews.imdb.com>

[15] Wikipedia. Leon Trotsky. 2006. 5 Sept. 2006. <www.wikipedia.org>

[16]Viano, Maurizio. “Life is Beautiful: Reception, Allegory and Holocaust Laughter.”  Jewish Social Studies  5.3 (1999)

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  1. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    thanks for sharing

  2. Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    sounds like a good movie!

  3. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    You make it sound so interesting. I will look for the movie.

  4. Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:31 am

    good info

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