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LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (La Vita e Bella) (1997)
Zany Guido Orefice, who deeply loves his wife and son, has an ideal family life in Tuscany, Italy, until they are all sent to a Nazi Work/Death Camp, in the last year of WW 2. Determined to shield his son and comfort his wife, Guido rises to the occasion by using all his unusual gifts. Guido turns the hard truth into a simple game for his son, and finds ways to continue to surprise his wife, encouraging her to persevere.
The cast includes: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano, Sergio Bini Bustric, Giuliana Lojodice, Amerigo Fontani, Pietro De Silva, Francesco Guzzo, Marisa Paredes, Horst Buchholz.
Screenplay written by: Roberto Benigni & Vincenzo Cerami. - based on experiences of Benigni's father, Luigi Benigni during 1943-1945 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL was nominated for the Best Picture award.
Directed by: Roberto Benigni.
La Vita e Bella (Life Is Beautiful)
The first part of this wonderful film shows the courtship between our hero, Guido Orefice and his Princess, an already engaged school teacher, Dora , as he wins her over with his spontaneous gifts of imagination love, courage and irresistible sense of humor.
After a voice over narration listed above, the story begins in 1939, when a carefree, zany, imaginative, optimistic book keeper turned waiter, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) comes to live with his Uncle (Giustino Durano) in Tuscany, Italy. On his way there, the car loses its breaks, and after a funny incident, where he is mistaken for someone else, they stop the car near a farm, where he and his friend stop to fix the brakes on the car.
He meets Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), on this farm in a most surprising way, capturing his heart. He calls her "Principessa!." Dora was from a well-to-do family and was visiting the farm for some unknown reason. From now on, whenever he bumps into her, he says, "Buongiorno, Principessa!"
He takes away 6 eggs as a gift, which cause him trouble later on when they accidentally wind up splattering on the head of Dora's fiancee, making a disastrous ending to Guido's first attempt to get a license to open a book store, as well as making an enemy in town government.
By accident, Guido bumps into Dora again in the street, where he learns that she is a school teacher. When an opportunity arises, he masquerades as the Government Inspector of Ministry, who was scheduled one morning to visit Dora's school. One of my favorite sequence of scenes begins, as he spontaneously fakes his way in front of the students and teachers, even trying to make a date with Dora.
When the principal asks him to make a speech to the school on the newly made Race Manifesto, that states, "Our Race is Superior," he bucks and wings it, jumping up on a table in front of the kids, in a hilarious routine, boasting of various parts of his body, until the real Inspector of Ministry shows up. He proudly says, "I'll make my Aryan exist and say good-bye!, " and hops out the window.
He found out she was going to the opera theater one night from their conversation at the school, so he shows up as well, and goes out of his way to show his love for her.
As he was working as a waiter at The Grand Hotel, he finds himself working at Dora's engagement party, where he bumbles around, showcasing Roberto Benign's genius at physical humor. Through a series of humorous incidents, Guido fully wins Dora's heart, and carries her off when he rides his uncle's horse into the room. The horse had been painted green, with the words, "Jewish Horse" written on its side.
The second part of the film shows the events of the last year of the war, 1944. The Nazi's had taken control, and signs of anti-Jewish sentiment were clearly seen. Guido and Dora have been married for 5 years, and had a nearly 5 year old son, Giosue (Joshua.), living an ideal life, despite the descrimination / persecution. Guido has his book store, where his son helps him, and Dora is still teaching. Their life is suddenly disrupted on Giosue's 5th birthday, when the family is sent by train to a Nazi work / death camp, a depressing, stark place.
From the very start of their solemn train trip, Guido Orefice begins formulating a game to mask the grim reality they were about to experience, out of love for his son, whom he wants to shield from their grim reality and the evilness around them. By the time they had arrived at the camp, he had the solution that would keep his son's spirits up, and hope existing.
Using his gifts of imagination, his humor, and his courage, in spontaneous ways, he continuously convinces his son with a smile that they are all playing a game to earn 1000 points to win a grand prize; a real tank! To prove it to his son, he musters his courage and volunteers to translate the camp instructions that were given in German by a very mean-looking, gruff, loud German soldier, despite the fact that he didn't know a word of German, gambling that the Germans present wouldn't catch on! This totally cheered up young Giosue, convincing him that this game of earning points is real.
This is another favorite sequence of scenes. Part of his pretend translation: "You can lose all your points for any one of three things. One: If you cry. Two: If you ask to see your mother. Three: If you're hungry and ask for a snack! Forget it!"
They have some close calls. After the rest of the children and old people were gassed in the shower, Guido added another important part to the game, explaining to Giosue that he had to hide and not be seen by the Germans or they would win the tank!
Throughout the rest of the film, the daring, imaginative Guido never lets an opportunity pass him by to improve the lot of his son, and still surprise his wife, who he hasn't seen since he saw her go on the train. In one instance, he and his son talk on the unattended camp microphone, letting her know that both of them were alive and surviving with their spirits attached.
Be sure to have a box of Kleenex with you during the last 30 minutes of this masterpiece, as it is both happy and sad, victorious and tragic.
This glorious film is a classic masterpiece, not only because of its original screenplay, marvelous direction, wonderful cast and haunting music, but also because it successfully makes a point through comedy, in a unique format, using romance, tragedy, human courage and spontaneity, all taking place during fascist Italy, under the influence of the evil Naxis. It is no wonder that this film won over 70 international awards, as well as receiving the Best Foreign Picture Oscar.
This labor of love was directed and written by the multi-gifted Roberto Benigni, who is a genius, known for not only for his great writing ability and for having a mastery of timing, but also for his ability to blend physical humor into his magical stories. Benigni, a successful comedian actor, became a writer and director as well in 1983.
Vincenzo Cerami also helped to write this funny and poignant story about the love, courage and determination that one man shows and never waivers from the goal of protecting his son, and surprising his wife. Cerami has teamed up with Benigni for other fine films as well, such as: "Johnny Stecchino," "Mostro,Il " and "Piccolo diavolo, Il."
Opening voice-over Narration: "This is a simple story, but not
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Roberto Benigni, often compared to Chaplin and Keaton richly deserved and won the Academy Award Oscar for Best Actor for his brilliant portrayal of Guido Orefice. He joins a very small group of people who have directed themselves into a performance that wins an academy award!
Nicoletta Braschi is very convincing as the lovely Dora, who willingly gave up her family to marry her true love, Guido, and is willing to go to a death camp with her husband and son, just to be at the same place they were.
The chemistry between Benigni and Braschi is the romantic glue that makes their deep love for each other convincing. (They are husband and wife in real life.)
Giorgio Cantarini is the precocious 5 year old who convincingly portrayed their son, Giosue. My favorite sequence of scenes with him is the part when Guido pretends to interpret the rules of the camp spoken by the German soldier. Cantarini's facial expressions are priceless. The gift of acting shows up early in some people, and this little boy will go far if he sticks to it.
The rest of the cast provide strong supporting performances to the main characters, throughout the film. Especially good was the late Giustino Durano, in his portrayal of Guido's Uncle.
Nicola Piovani, an Italian prolific film score composer, won the Oscar for Best Original musical score. I especially love the theme written to represent Guido's and Dora's love for each other.
Tonino Delli Colli was the one responsible for the wonderful cinematography in this film. His long career started in 1948, and ended with "Life is Beautiful," at the age of 74, as he has gone into semi-retirement.
This film is rated Pg-13 for "holocaust-related thematic elements." The tragic elements of the story can be very upsetting for sensitive children under 13. Teens 13 and older would enjoy the comedy and positive aspects story, and will learn about the tragedy of the Holocaust at the same time, which is portrayed in good taste, not in a graphic way.
If you enjoyed this film, you may like "Tea with Mussolini," "The Secret of Santa Victoria," "Mus'me si pomhat," "Pasqualino Settebellezze," "Hitlerjunge Salomon," "Slaughter House Five," "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," "Snow Falling on Cedars," "Schindler's List," and "Sophie's Choice."