A Movie That You Wish More People Would’ve Seen
Today’s challenge was simple. If I can only recommend one movie to anyone, it is this delightful gem from Roberto Benigni. And it is a rare occasion that they have already seen it. I wonder what prevents people from seeing this film. Is it the fact that it is a foreign film or maybe that there are no recognizable movie stars in it? Perhaps it is the fact that the subject matter is generally so depressing. But the funny yet haunting Life Is Beautiful, is quite possibly the best most satisfying movie I have ever seen.
Life Is Beautiful is the story of clever Italian waiter named Guido Orefice (played masterfully by writer and director Benigni himself). Over in Germany, Hitler is making his malevolent preparations, but for the first half of the film, world politics are only a backdrop to Guido’s comic attempts to woo a beautiful schoolteacher named Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), away from her fiance. Benigni’s brand of physical comedy reminds me of Charlie Chaplin. He even has touches of political satire a la Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, for instance, Guido’s automobile has malfunctioning brakes and his frantic waving people out of the way is mistaken for stiff-armed salutes. But where Life Is Beautiful turns into something rare and extraordinary is not until midway through the film.
Fast-forwarding a few years, Guido, now owns a small bookstore. Guido and Dora have married and have a young son. It wasn’t until writing this review that I found that his son’s name is “Joshua” spelled Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). A Nazi presence is now creeping into their Italian town, and signs have begun to appear in shop windows: “No Dogs or Jews Allowed” Guido, who we learn is Jewish himself, jokes to a confused Giosue that he should put up a sign on their store: “No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed.” The film shifts gears when his family is arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Dora, who is not Jewish, chooses to follow her husband and child. It is at this point that Life Is Beautiful changes into a very different film. I was impressed at how seamlessly the comedy moved into the world of the death camps.
It’s a risky transition, as Guido continues to struggle to shield his son from its harsh realities and atrocities of the Holocaust, but Benigni handles it with class. He accomplishes this minor miracle by shifting the focus and audience of his humor to Giosue. He makes the camp and its officers look foolish not to make us laugh but to spare his beloved son from the trauma of this horror. Some detractors see it as making light of tragedy, but they fail to realize is that its humor does not make light of the genocide but rather exalts the sacrifice of a parent.
Do you have any lesser known gems in mind that you would recommend to everyone? I watch a lot of movies that every one else passes up. I hope you will share some with me in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.