Life is Beautiful achieves the impossible: making a feel-good movie about the Holocaust actually work. Never thought I’d put ‘feel-good’ and ‘Holocaust’ in the same sentence.
Life is Beautiful (1997) is a comedy/drama/romance written and directed by Roberto Benigni. It stars Benigni as Guido, a charming Jewish librarian who becomes romantically involved with a woman in Italy on the cusp of World War 2.
Charismatic isn’t a strong enough word to describe how endearing Benigni is in this film. He’s like a battery that charges the entire movie with infectious, charming energy. While the film’s plot meanders along, his performance is more than enough to keep you engaged through the historical peaks and troughs of 1940s Italy. Sad and sweet in equal measures, Life is Beautiful lives up to its title in making a story of happiness enduring under the most difficult of circumstances.
As I said, this film would fall into disrepair without Roberto Benigni at its core. The writer/director/star is clearly highly talented and has an impeccable understanding of the film’s premise and the direction he wants it to take. That trio of oscar noms (and single win) was well deserved. His love interest Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) also has wonderful chemistry and rapport with Benigni, making their relationship both adorable and genuine from their first scene together. Their child Joshua (debut by Giogrio Cantarini) is solid, portraying the innocence and cheeky nature of a child well, but is incapable of holding together any scene without Benigni’s support. My only real criticism of Life is Beautiful is that its too sweet. Unbelievably sweet. Guido feels like a character that could not exist in real life, and has the potential to grate on anyone too allergic to soppiness.
But for the crowd who can stomach an overload of sugar, Life is Beautiful is more than likely going to be enjoyed to the fullest extent. Both touching and depressing, this film delivers everything a ‘feel-good movie during the Holocaust’ promises.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended