Anything that lightens the tragedy is risky business, even in the hands of these devoted filmmakers.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Life is Beautiful is a love story written, directed, and acted from the heart of Roberto Benigni. It is a story that will stir a wealth of conflicting emotions for most people. Mr. Benigni rips a mother, father, and child from their idyllic life in Italy and puts them in a concentration camp, where they await their turns in the gas chamber. This father, a man who races through life in a manic form of stapstick, will use it to protect his son. He will make the ordeal a joke so the boy can think he is on an adventure.

We have plenty of time to grow to love this family. For an hour, the Jewish waiter Guido (Mr. Benigni), an emotional and physical motion machine, courts and wins his princess, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). Whenever he takes a pratfall into her life--from a horse, from a stairway, in the street--she looks radiantly at the odd fellow she loved at first sight.

Babbling uncontrollably about his missteps, always on the run from someone he has offended, Guido is Dora's prince, and she loves him without a hint of reservation. Nicoletta Braschi conveys Dora's love with such joy that we feel Guido's inherent goodness even when we most want to turn his volume down. Hers is a small, but joyous performance that explains everything about this family of three. Ms. Braschi's smile could light all of Italy.

The signs are there. Teachers pose new math problems to children: "How much money would we save if we killed all the cripples?" Signs sprout in store windows: "No Jews or dogs allowed." When Guido and Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini) are taken by the Nazis, Dora, who is not Jewish and need not go, insists on boarding the train for the camp. By the time father and son are herded to their wooden bunks, Guido has convinced the boy this is part of his birthday celebration, a game to be won. The prize will go to the one who stays hidden the longest.

When Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator, his 1940 satire of the Nazis, the world was years from understanding the extent of the genocide. It is a movie that doesn't play well with perspective. The question of whether courage as comedy can play against the Holocaust is a very personal question. I think it can't.

Generations now 50 years removed from that war must learn the monstrous truth of it. Granted that we have to search for new ways to speak to new generations in their own language rather than just by repetition of the images of 1945. But those images and their stories are the truth. I can speak only for myself, but it troubles me greatly that a film like this might encourage the view that if others had been inventive, they might have survived. Anything that lightens the tragedy is risky business, even in the hands of these devoted filmmakers.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Miramax
Rating : PG-13
Running time: 1h54m

Copyright (c) Illusion

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