#26: Life Is Beautiful (1997)

When and how did I watch this?

April 14th, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Italian film about the Holocaust. It piggybacks “It’s a Wonderful Life”, a coincidental title similiarity that I found amusing.

What do I know about it now?

The Pianist captures Nazi-occupied Poland on a personal level, but it also uses the character of Szpilman as a “lens” to show us the scope and horror of the behind-the-fronts situation in World War II. Life Is Beautiful does something similar, but intensely more visceral, if it were possible. Evoking our pathos from the start, we encounter the likable (dare I say lovable) Guido (Benigni) whose personality lifts up everyone around him, and we root for him as he falls in love and starts a family despite an undercurrent of Jewish prejudice in the area. The film continues with this light motif through his family’s capture and transport to a concentration camp, but Guido’s mood remains effervescent as he portrays the situation to his young son as a game. This game continues to be played, but the Holocaust is never mocked; the folks around Guido and his son are miserable, the German officers are deadly serious, and the prisoners are eliminated systematically. Guido does everything possible to shield his son from the horrors of what’s happening, fabricating elaborate stories and getting others around him to play along. There’s also his wife (Braschi), whose role is played well enough, but Benigni’s Guido steals the whole thing. He’s delightful and single-handedly elevates the otherwise grim film into a great tale of perseverance, redemption and sacrifice.

What are some themes in the film?

The Holocaust, sacrifice, family, prejudice, bureaucracy, perseverance

Did this affect me personally?

Yes! The entirety had a profound impact on my outlook, how I treat my days and my family. There are takeaways that parallel the tenets of the Bible all over it.

Why is this ranked #26?

While not a well-known film, it’s a cinematic achievement revered by many. I read some criticisms that it treats a horrible time in history too lightly, but it appears viewers have resonated with its sentiment and didn’t get butthurt about its contrast with the grim backdrop.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She was busy doing something else for most of it, but was drawn in at its conclusion.

Would I watch it again?

Indeed. It’s an inspiring tale that serves as a reminder to consider others before yourself, along with being heartwarming and entertaining.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Most of the “great” WWII films are brutal. This one takes a different turn, if you’re interested. The subtitles aren’t terribly distracting, but some of the dialogue seems to race.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Overwhelmingly yes. You’d have to be a bitter, hardened person to not be moved by Guido’s charm and cleverness, along with his relentless desire to make the best out of a horrible situation in history. It easily ranks among the best ever made.

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