Blu-ray Review – life Is Beautiful (1997)

Bougiorni Principessa!” It might not be a positive happy warm greeting you would really associate with a film which deals with the innocence of a child during the Jewish Holocaust of World War 2. But in the words of the tv advert for the infamous store, this is no ordinary film, this is a Roberto Benigni film! Nominated for 7 Oscar Academy Awards, winner of 3 Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella) a modern classic story of love, innocence, dreams, horrors during World War 2, 15 years on is finally getting the Blu-Ray release it deserves.

1939, Guido (Benigni) an enchanting, charismatic Jewish Italian, childlike innocence, an ambitious man following his dream of becoming a book shop owner. He heads to the small Tuscan town of Arezzo to achieve his dream first by earning his keep by helping out his uncle as a waiter. After a series of coincidental encounters (which eventually become  planned ones) he falls in love with a local schoolteacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real wife), Guido has one little problem his ‘Principessa’ is engaged to the local fascist official whom he has had many run-ins with during his short time in Arezzo. But as fairytale romances go the prince always gets his princess and wins the heart of Dora and they marry, five years on Guido has his bookshop and a son Giosue ( Giorgio Cantarini).

World War 2 has arrived, bigotry, racial laws are rife within Italy and Guido and his family must come to terms with the harsh realities. Guido attempts to shield his son from their new brutal reality, his determination now becomes a matter of life and death when he is sent to a German Concentration camp with his son 3 months before the War ends. To her horror, Dora omits herself too to make sure she is not split from her family but the woman and men are separated at camp.Guido’s determination to hide his son from the camp horrors he convinces Giosue that its merely a big game there playing forcing him to use his bold imagination to save the people he loves in the hope that one day they will be reunited as a family once again.

Life is Beautiful is a film split into 2 acts, the first act following Guido’s arrival in Arezzo following his dream, finding his ‘Principessa’. This point of the film is visually stunning, typically Mediterranean/ Italian colour palette (which is now enhanced thanks to the Blu-ray conversion), very laid back heart warming place typical Italian small town atmosphere life goes on but as War approaches life gets harder, bleaker as the story progresses into the camp.The main attraction to this film is not the atrocities of war the spirit of the people through hard times.The characters are fantastically developed especially in the first act with Benigni as Guido really shining through as a comical genius. You can really see Charlie Chaplin must be one of his idols as at times the film breaks into Chaplinesque slapstick comedy moments making it a delight to own and probably why this film is so widely accessible, but overall even his body language is just a delight to watch on its own.

Another example of his comedy talents is seen in the second act, in what is probably the film’s funniest moment when Guido volunteers to Translate for the Nazi officer the rules of the camp. He constantly ridicules the officer with his hilarious ‘alternative rules’ making it sound like the camp is a fun challenging place to be. Let’s get one thing straight here, the atrocities of World War 2 or any war for that matter are not funny and Life Is Beautiful doesn’t mock the memory of those who suffered or died as the second act of the film is actually through the eyes of Guido and Dora’s son Giosue. It is this reason why Guido mocks the Nazi Officer as well as make Giosue think the camp is one big game worth winning. He merely protecting his son from the evils that lie within the camp, we do get glimpses of those horrors but like any parent, they will do anything to protect that innocence of their children.

Life is Beautiful is a wonderful testament to the power of storytelling, the love of parents and their children, distracting them from the hardships of life. Benigni’s style of storytelling does one wonderful thing, he makes the characters feel human, real, insecure, determined people we want to be interested in. One touching moment is throughout the first act as we admire Guido as a person at no point he is revealed as Jewish until the middle of the film when things get harsher, makes you question yourself why is it important for some people what religion you are before they socialise with you or just talk to you.

Life is Beautiful is touching, but a comical film that will make you laugh, smile and cry all at once, not many films can do that and those that can are masterpieces and Roberto Benigni’s film is one of them.

★★★★★|Paul Devine

War, drama, comedy | Italy, 1997 | PG | 2nd April 2012 (UK) | Studio Canal | Dir. Roberto Benigni | Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano | Buy:Buy Life Is Beautiful, Special Edition On Blu-ray

Originally posted at The Peoples Movies | 1st April 2012 (UK)

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