Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review Wednesday: Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella)

Title: Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella)
Directed by: Roberto Benigni
Rating: PG-13
Release Year: 1997

Life Is Beautiful
Link to Movie
I've been studying a lot about the Holocaust lately, and that made me want to watch this movie again, so I did. Afterward, I decided that instead of a book review, I would do my first movie review. 

This is my second (possibly third) time watching this movie. It's been long enough that I really only remembered the end of it, and so I was surprised to find out that it was considered a tragicomedy (their word, not mine). A large part of it is a comedy.

Life is Beautiful is an Italian film, and thus is entirely in Italian. Personally, I think that only makes it better. With subtitles I understood it fine and it makes it feel much more realistic to me. The plot centers on a young man named Guido Orefice who is a Jewish Italian book keeper. 

He was a pretty likable character, who falls in love with a woman that he doesn't realize is engaged to someone else. In his innocent and goofy way, he charms her and (in what I would consider an almost stalker-ish way) continually is showing up where she's not expecting him. She is pretty unhappy with her engagement though, and this giddy young man eventually sweeps her off her feet and into marriage with him. 

Jump forward to five years, and the Germans have entered Italy. They now have a son named Joshua, and they are continually harassed by others because of Guido's race. His wife, who is not Jewish, stands by her husband, and they seem to be pretty happily married. 

Then, the Jews are taken away to a concentration camp. His wife, Dora, refuses to be left behind and board the train with her husband and son. Their five-year-old son, Joshua is confused at the events, and his cheerful father does his best to turn everything into a game so his son can keep his innocence. He tells him that they are in a contest, and every day they win points. At the end of the game, the winner gets a real tank (Joshua's favorite thing). 

I'll try not to spoil anything, but I will say that I highly recommend this film. The beginning was okay, but it wasn't really the kind of movie that I enjoy that much. It was more like a romantic comedy. However, once the Nazis entered the movie, it became much more intense. 

Even while Joshua was shielded from what was actually happening, it was very apparent to me (the audience) some of the atrocities that were being committed. At one point, Joshua is told by someone that the prisoners are made into buttons and soap and cooked inside giant ovens. As Guido does his best to convince his son that they are simply trying to get him to quit so that they can win the game, he makes fun of the concept of turning people in buttons and cooking them in ovens. It was a little painful for me to watch, because it was really happening, and in this one case, his light-hearted humor seemed almost disrespectful. However, because it was for his son's sake, it actually seemed a perfect mockery of how ludicrous the Nazi's actions really were. Why would people turn other people into soap?

The character of Guido was hard for me at first (before he married his wife). He is an interesting guy, and not always entirely honest, which I didn't really like. His spontaneous ways of meeting his wife were more awkward than funny to me sometimes, but I'm going to peg the fact that I didn't find everything he did funny on my own misunderstanding of their culture. I think I just didn't understand some of the humor, which is fine. Often he was quite funny to me. At the end, he is a heroic, still goofy figure, and I did end up crying.

There are a few scenes that are especially poignant for me. One was where Guido is talking to a German doctor that he knew before the camp and expecting aid. Instead the man gives him a riddle and talks about how he can't sleep until he solves it. As he says this, there is stark pain on his face and tears in his eyes. I think that was meant to show how much his job at the camp was actually bothering him. It wasn't the riddle at all. 

The other scene that I've been thinking about a lot, is how the Nazis came to get Guido and Joshua while Dora was fetching her mother, who hadn't spoken to them in the last five years. I wonder if the mother was just trying to get her daughter out of the way so she wouldn't fight the guards who came. If that's the case, I don't like the mother very much either. 

Tell me your thoughts on these two scenes, please. I'd love to hear your interpretation. 

The movie is fairly non-graphic considering the material that it is based on. You didn't actually see anyone die, though deaths are heavily implied. There is one moment where corpses (or bones) are seen through a fog, but it's hard to distinguish what they actually are. 

There is no sexual content either, though Guido does tell Dora that he wants to make love to her during one of their courting scenes. (That was another awkward scene for me. If someone had said that to me, I wouldn't have been flattered, I would have been kind of creeped out. I think it was supposed to be romantic though.) The actor/director does a great job, and you can see how frightened and tired he is as he tries to get his son through the concentration camp.

The boy is a great little actor, and his honest delight at times is hard not to smile at. The actress who plays Dora also does a great job. 

Honestly, I loved this movie, and I loved how you got to know what the people were like before they entered the camp. The ending was beautiful and sad at the same time, and a little bit hard to watch. If you're looking for a great movie about the Holocaust, this is one of my favorites. 

Parental guide: 

For movie guides, I may just link you to the IMDB Parental Guide:

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