Thursday, March 21, 2019

CONSENSUS #81. Life Is Beautiful (1997)

SYNOPSIS:  It is a Holocaust dramedy set in Italy.  Roberto Begnini plays a charming Jew who is sent to a concentration camp with his young son.  His wife is in another part of the camp.  He manages to communicate with her over the camp’s speaker system.  He shields his son from the realities of the camp by convincing him that the camp is the elaborate setting for a game.  Comedy (?) ensues.
BACK-STORY:  “Life is Beautiful” is an Italian film that was directed and co-written by Roberto Begnini.  He also starred in it.  Begnini loosely based the movie on the book In the End, I Beat Hitler by Rubino Romeo Salmoni.  He also was inspired by his own father’s stories from WWII.  He was in the Italian army and switched sides when his country went over to the Allies.  Unfortunately, the elder Begnini was captured by the Germans and put in a labor camp.  He would tell his kids humorous stories to distract them.  The movie was a big hit and critically acclaimed.  It won the Grand Prix at Cannes. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Original Dramatic Score, and Actor.  
TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, Shmoop 
1.  Roberto Benigni wrote the screenplay partly based on his father who spent two years in a German labor camp in WWII.  His father told his children about his experiences using humor.
2.  The movie was nominated for Oscars for:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing.  It won for:  Actor, Foreign Language Film, Original Dramatic Score.
3.  Guido’s wife Dora was played by Benigni’s wife Nicoletta Braschi.
4.  The title comes from a line Trotsky said to his wife in Mexico around the time he was assassinated by Stalin’s agents.
5.  It was the second time a Best Actor winner was directed by himself.  The first was Laurence Olivier in “Hamlet”.
6.  The movie was only the second time a picture was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film.  The first was “Z” in 1969.
7.  Benigni was only the fourth person nominated for Director, Actor, and Screenplay.  The others were Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”), Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”), and Warren Beatty (“Heaven Can Wait” and “Reds”).
8.  Benigni was the second actor to win Best Actor for a Foreign Film.  First was Sophia Loren for “Two Women”.
9.  Benigni is in the select company of Best Actor winners who also got a Razzie (for “Pinocchio”).  The others were Halle Berry, Kevin Costner, Liza Minelli, Sandra Bullock, and Laurence Olivier.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A 
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  3.1
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #56
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  Holocaust movies are a significant subgenre inside the war movie genre.  These movies have a much higher percentage of good movies than any other subgenre.  Compare it to the submarine subgenre, for instance.  The high quality, in general, is probably a product of the seriousness of the topic.  Rarely do you see a Holocaust movie that does not take the event seriously.  This movie is one of those rare examples.  Begnini plays the Holocaust for laughs and the critics loved it.  I didn’t.  The movie is terribly overrated.  I do not say that because it has humor in it.  I say that because the humor is grating, as is the over the top performance of Begnini.  He would argue the movie is supposed to be a fairy tale, but I would argue it is still too soon to treat the tragedy as a humorous fairy tale.  This movie does not belong in the top 100 war films, especially since several excellent Holocaust movies did not make the list.

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