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(1998) (Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
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Drama/Comedy: An Italian Jew tries to shield the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp from his young son by having him believe that their internment there is really just a game.
It's 1939 Italy and Guido Orefice (ROBERTO BENIGNI) is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who's traveling with his relative/brother Ferruccio (SERGIO BINI BUSTRIC). Arriving in Arezzo, Guido happens to catch Dora (NICOLETTA BRASCHI), a young and pretty schoolteacher who's just been stung by a bee and literally falls into his arms.

Immediately smitten, Guido, who gets a job as a waiter, arranges to "accidently" bump into Dora over the next several days, but eventually realizes that she's engaged -- albeit unhappily -- to a Fascist official. Nonetheless, his charm wins her over and they ride off together for a life of happiness.

Unfortunately, the reality of war strikes several years later when Guido, who's Jewish, and their five-year-old son, Giosué/Joshua (GIORGIO CANTARINI), are boarded on trains headed for German concentration camps. Fearing for her husband and son, Dora, who's not Jewish, demands that she be allowed to go with them and she eventually does.

Hoping to shield Giosué from the reality and horrors of their predicament, Guido informs his son that they and everyone else in the camp, including fellow bunkmate Bartolomeo (PIETRO DE SILVA) are competing to win a contest where the grand prize is a real tank, one of Giosué's favorite things.

Trying to keep up his own moral, as well as that of Giosué and Dora who's now been separated from them, Guido does what he can to protect and encourage them, instilling the notion that if they try and believe hard enough, they'll make it out alive.

Teens might, but the subject matter and the fact that it's a subtitled, foreign film will keep most kids at bay.
For holocaust-related thematic elements.
  • ROBERTO BENIGNI plays a charming, carefree man who falls for a schoolteacher he meets. Years later, with her and their son confined in a concentration camp, he does what he can to protect them and keep their spirits high.
  • NICOLETTA BRASCHI plays his wife who demands that she be allowed to go with her family to the concentration camp despite not being Jewish.
  • GIORGIO CANTARINI plays their young son who blindly goes along with his father's protective lie about why they're in a concentration camp.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    If one were going to make a humorous film or a lightweight romantic comedy, many things would come to mind long before thinking of using the Holocaust as source material. While some films and most notably the 1960's TV show "Hogan's Heroes" depicted the German military forces in a comedic fashion, the immense gravity of millions of people being murdered due to their ethnicity usually doesn't lend itself to comedy.

    Case in point is Steven Spielberg's powerful "Schindler's List" that showed the horrors of such atrocities in a decidedly solemn fashion and has become the de facto standard for that unforgettable period of history. In sharp contrast, Roberto Benigni -- who serves as this film's star, director and writer (along with co-writer Vincenzo Cerami) -- delivers a decidedly more upbeat, lightweight look at the tragedy with "Life is Beautiful."

    While some might mistake his work for being unforgivably irreverent about a subject that's normally never associated with that adjective, that couldn't be farther from the truth and will most likely only come from those who've yet to see the film. For once they do, they'll realize that it's as much about the human spirit and surviving unspeakable atrocities as is Spielberg's moving and harrowing masterpiece.

    Essentially two films in one, the first hour or so of "Life is Beautiful" is amusing, but lightweight stuff. During this time -- where only hints of what's to follow occasionally appear -- we get to know the protagonist and see that he's an unassuming, charming and carefree, good guy.

    From an opening sequence where Guido is mistaken for a king as he tries to wave gathered townspeople out of the way while careening through them in a car without brakes (obviously inspired by the scene from "Kelly's Heroes" where a WWII American general played by Carroll O'Connor is mistaken for Charles de Gaulle) to another where he poses as a school inspector lecturing the virtues and literal embodiment of Aryan superiority and shows his own bully button to accentuate the point, Benigni delivers some funny moments.

    Something of a hyper mixture of Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers and Robin Williams, Benigni ("Son of the Pink Panther") is a funny performer and his overall demeanor immediately puts the audience at ease and a smile on their faces. That's important, since the second half of the film -- that abruptly begins with a sudden jump in time -- delves into far more serious subject matter. While that headfirst transition from fluffy romantic comedy to a harrowing concentration camp story would seem like the moment where the film suddenly turns ugly, loses its momentum and derails the audience's enthusiasm in the project, it's the reverse that's actually true.

    Although the first half is charmingly amusing, it lacks direction and focus and one constantly wonders where the story is heading. As such, it's a bit too long in introducing what essentially becomes the setup for the second half. Fortunately, that's where the film really takes off. Becoming a wonderful mixture of comedy, tragedy and genuinely felt compassion, this latter part of the movie is a tremendous piece of filmmaking.

    Understanding the need to carefully balance the serious and comedic aspects of what the story has now become, Benigni employs an ingenious device that not only allows that, but draws the audience deeper into the story and its characters.

    Realizing the gravity of the situation and wanting to keep his son in the dark about it for as long as possible, Benigni's character channels his energetically whimsical demeanor into a clever method of helping his family and himself survive. Having the character turn the serious matter and potential horror into a game for his son, Benigni not only provides a way for the characters -- and, in turn, the audience -- to get through the ordeal, but also creates great, self-sacrificial depth for his character.

    Of course the film never directly delves into the horrors of the Holocaust like "Schindler's List" did, as that much realism would have derailed this film's efforts. Instead, it hints at or briefly explores those elements, but never to the point where they'd tip the balance toward ultimate tragedy.

    Beyond Benigni's performance that continually gets better as the story progresses, the real highlight of the show is young Giorgio Cantarini. Perfectly playing the part of the young boy who goes along with his father's ruse but at times nearly seems to know much more than he leads his dad to believe, Cantarini is a delight in every scene in which he appears.

    Nicoletta Braschi, however, who just so happens to be Benigni's real-life wife, unfortunately embodies a less developed character who gets substantially less screen time than her male counterparts. As a result, the parts of the story that deal with her aren't quite as effective as those with the father and son.

    Nonetheless, and despite its first half that's a bit too long in setting up the story, the film is a delight to watch. Accompanied by a hauntingly moving score (from composer Nicola Piovani) and showing that family love and the human spirit can conquer nearly any obstacle, "Life is Beautiful" is an engaging, funny, and heartfelt experience. We give the film an 8 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this PG-13 rated film that gets its rating for Holocaust related thematic elements. As such, the horrors and atrocities are far more suggested and implied (due to our knowledge of them) than actually described or seen, although a fog-enshrouded scene shows an immense pile of human bodies (from a distance) at one point in the film.

    In addition, none of the lethal violence that occurs in the concentration camp (that is otherwise mentioned/suggested) is actually seen, although we do hear someone being killed by machine gun fire. Beyond that, some people drink and smoke, and the protagonist makes a few repeated comments about wanting to "make love" to the lead female character.

    Other than the obvious extreme bad attitudes of those who imprison others and/or believe they're superior to them, as well as the general unsettling nature of where the second half of the story takes place, the rest of the film's categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content.

    Even so, and while it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, we suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness.

  • A man has champagne in a bucket of ice in front of him.
  • As a waiter, Guido brings a customer some white wine.
  • People have drinks at a reception/dinner.
  • A German doctor has a drink as do other Germans at a dinner.
  • We see that Bartolomeo has been injured/wounded and his arm is somewhat bloody (as is his torn shirt).
  • As Guido carries Giosué through a thick blanket of fog they (and we) see (from a distance) an enormous pile of bodies in front of them (that has the look of a painting, but is supposed to be real).
  • The Nazis, as well as the citizens who believe in Aryan superiority and those who run the concentration camp, obviously have both.
  • We see that someone painted the horse owned by Guido's uncle and wrote on it "Jewish horse."
  • A woman comments on how much money the government could save if they got rid of (kill) "cripples" and other such people. Others, including Dora's fiancé, agree with her.
  • The general concept of the Holocaust/Internment camps might be unsettling to some viewers and knowledge of that makes the following more disturbing/harrowing.
  • A woman tells Dora that the Germans are taking old people and children to the showers to gas them (not seen).
  • In another scene Giosué tells his father that he was ordered to take a shower with the other boys and Guido (not knowing the ramifications) tries to convince him to go and do that (and it's strongly suggested that all of the other children are killed).
  • After Giosué accidently speaks in Italian while secretly seated with a table of German kids, a waiter rushes off to inform someone of this.
  • As Guido carries Giosué through a thick blanket of fog they (and we) see (from a distance) an enormous pile of bodies in front of them (that has the look of a painting, but is supposed to be real).
  • A guard dog nearly gives away Giosué's hiding place in one scene.
  • The ending, where Guido tries to find and insure the safety of Giosué and Dora while eluding the guards may be tense to some viewers.
  • Rifles/Machine guns: Carried by soldiers.
  • Machine gun: Aimed at a man who's then taken away and shot with it (not seen, but heard).
  • Gas chambers: Used to kill many people (not seen, but mentioned).
  • Phrases (in English subtitles): "Jerk" and "Jackass."
  • We see that someone painted the horse owned by Guido's uncle and wrote on it "Jewish horse."
  • None.
  • A mild amount of ominously suspenseful music plays in several scenes.
  • None.
  • 1 use of "Good Lord" as an exclamation (in English subtitles).
  • After sucking (or acting like he's sucking) bee "poison" from Dora's thigh (after she's been stung), Guido playfully asks if she has any other bee stings (elsewhere on her body).
  • Guido tells Dora (in English subtitles), "...to mention how much I feel like making love to you....not just once...over and over again..." He then says "I could make love to you right here for the rest of my life."
  • A man comes up to Dora's fiancé and says "Now you don't need to go to the brothel with us anymore."
  • Guido makes a comment (about Dora) stating "I can't wait until I make love to her... two or three times if I can."
  • Ferruccio smokes a cigar, an officer smokes, some people at a reception/dinner also smoke, as do some Germans at a later dinner.
  • Guido worries about Giosué and Dora (who worries about them) while they're all confined in the camp.
  • The Holocaust and concentration camps and whether the film's often lighthearted treatment of them is irreverent or not.
  • Why it was okay for Guido to lie to his son about their internment.
  • Giosué tells his father that he's heard that the guards make buttons and soap from them (the prisoners) and burn them in ovens.
  • Although none of the lethal violence is actually seen (and only one instance is directly heard), it's stated/suggested that many people are killed in the concentration camp, thus the extreme rating.
  • Guido and Ferruccio discover that their uncle has been roughed up by some unseen assailant(s).
  • Guido accidently bumps a flower pot that falls from a window and lands on a man's head.
  • Guido accidently knocks over Dora while on his bike.
  • A person stomps down on another person's foot to make them be quiet.
  • Dora finds that's Guido's place has been ransacked.
  • We see that Bartolomeo has been injured/wounded and his arm is somewhat bloody (as is his torn shirt).
  • It's implied that many people are gassed to death in the concentration camp.
  • We hear gunfire and then learn that the war is over and the Germans are trying to cover up any evidence of the concentration camp and are thus killing the prisoners (we don't actually see any of that although we see people being taken away on trucks for that purpose).
  • A guard catches a man and holds his machine gun on him. He then leads him into an alley (we don't follow them) and we hear the guard firing the machine gun and then see him walk out alone (implying that he shot and killed the other man).

  • Reviewed March 20, 1999 / Posted March 22, 1999

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