By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
Roberto Benigni’s World War Two drama, Life Is Beautiful (La Vita e’ Bella) is one of Italy’s most celebrated and beloved films.
Winner of three Academy Awards including Best Actor and Best Foreign Language Film; Life is Beautiful wowed audiences and critics around the world when it was released in 1997. 20 years later, the Italian classic returns to the big screen as the closing night film for this year’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Part romantic comedy and part war drama, Life Is Beautiful opens during the years leading up to the Second World War, where Guido (Roberto Benigni) a young, optimistic Jewish man meets the beautiful Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) and falls helplessly in love with her.
She is, however, engaged to an arrogant fascist. Guido finds himself in some hilarious situations as he sets out to win her heart.
Eventually Dora, to her mother’s dismay falls for Guido. The two defy social expectations and marry and several years later live a blissful life as parents to five-year-old Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). But the family’s happiness is short-lived when in 1945, German troops arrive in town and place both Guido and Giosue in a concentration camp.
Separated by her family, Dora volunteers to go to the concentration camp in the hopes of being reunited with her husband and son.
Meanwhile Guido, uses his will, humour and imagination to protect his son from the dangers around the camp, preserve his innocence and remind him that even in our darkest moments, life is beautiful.
Benigni who co-wrote the film is Italy’s king of slapstick comedy and arguably gives the performance of his career. He transitions seamlessly between a helplessly romantic young man who is desperately trying to woo Dora, to a concerned father who will sacrifice anything to save his son.
Benigni is able to do the unthinkable, which is to make viewers laugh during scenes set in a concentration camp, and does so in a respectful way that does not discredit the seriousness of the Holocaust. His Oscar winning performance will leave viewers in stitches and by the end of the film you will be smiling through tears.
Nicoletta Braschi shares great onscreen chemistry with Benigni as Dora, which is no surprise considering Benigni and Braschi are a real life married couple. While Braschi is not given a lot to work with she is effective in her scenes. Meanwhile young Giorgio Cantarini steals every scene he is in as the adorable five-year-old son of Guido.
Cantarini and Benigni have great chemistry and their unique father and son relationship is what makes the film.
Benigni’s screenplay with Vincenzo Cerami seamlessly weaves romance, comedy and drama. While the film changes dramatically in the second half of the film, Cerami and Benigni are able to maintain the humour whilst being poignant and sincere.
The outstanding performances, stunning musical score and heartfelt screenplay makes Life is Beautiful a must see. And if you have already seen the film, then embrace this rare opportunity to see an Italian masterpiece on the big screen once again.
A charming story of love and sacrifice, Life is Beautiful is a timely film that reminds us that regardless of all that is going on within the world, the life that we have, that at times brings us pain, fear and sorrow, is also beautiful.
Life is Beautiful is showing at this year’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival. For ticket information visit www.italianfilmfestival.com.au