Comedy in Tragedy
TLR Rating: 7 1/2 Reels.
To the average audience, a comedy about holocaust will seem to be a preposterous idea but then a movie can be about anything, isn’t it? When ‘Life is Beautiful’ was released, the audience around the world were skeptical about the entire concept. The director, however, had chosen to narrate the events with utter simplicity and create characters which would haunt the viewer’s memory for a long time. Guido Orefice was a role that Robert Benigni had created for himself. He plays a character who is somewhat like a clown in the real world. He is the kind of person who loves playing the fool and this quality somehow attracts the beautiful and charming Dora, played by Nicoletta Braschi. The movie is satisfactory, if not well crafted, in the somewhat unconventional two acts. The first act shows how the couple falls in love and all the difficulties they face in a hilarious way. In the second act the movie is about the holocaust and how Guido, Dora and Giosue, their only child, face it. This review will be divided into two parts for respective acts and then there will be a brief analysis of how the movie turned out to be, what I felt about it and the controversy surrounding it.
As the movie started, I was focusing and stressing too much on the subtitles trying too hard to understand what the characters were saying until Benigni started to indulge me into his hilarious and fabulous ( I rarely use those words together) acting in the role which he was born to play. His actions actually speaks louder than his words. In a brilliant mixture of romance and comedy, Guido flirtatiously uses random encounters (some of which were not so random) to impress Dora, whom he calls ‘princess’ or ‘principessa‘ as he says in Italian. It is impossible to not to develop a liking for this reckless yet adorable character of Guido who faces some difficulties in between, but dodges every single one with his presence of mind. My personal favorite part of this act is the one involving the hat and how it travels around the city and comes back to him. The idea is a bit far-fetched for reality, but in the movie it is shown in a very poetic sense which made an impression on me. Dora is finally set to marry to the fascist official whom she was already engaged to, rather forcefully. In the scene where Dora is about to marry the official, Guido gallantly retrieves her on a green horse, which might have been the first symbol of anti-Semitism shown in the movie.
The movie till now has developed the characters well enough and Robert Beningi has his foundation. He starts showing the heinous act of attempted genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. By now it has been made clear to the audience that Guido is Jewish with help of some references that were somewhat lazy. While leading a happy, quiet and peaceful life, Guido and his family (Dora and Giosue his son) are confronted by the Nazis who obviously takes Guido and Giosue to the camps. Dora, on the other hand, not being a Jew, still went with insisting on staying with them until she is alive. As they enter the camp, they see all dull faces tired from working all day like animals but Guido didn’t want Giosue to lose any hope. He makes up a story about all this being a game in which they have to earn a 1000 points to win. All that he has to do is to hide and not be noticed. Again it is somewhat a lazy attempt to serve the purpose of the plot, but it works just fine. While living away from Dora, Guido finds a way every time to save his son from the Nazis, while managing to engage the audience in a very subtle and hilarious way. At times people may feel that they are deliberately trying to reduce the seriousness of the event, a sentiment which can get offended. At last, Guido hides Giosue and makes an unsuccessful attempt to meet Dora and gets caught by the Nazi official. They don’t kill him on that spot but take him to a secluded place where he is killed by bullets. It simply breaks one’s heart to see such a fun-loving and joyous character die, but I was more interested to see what happens to his child and Dora. The next day we see suddenly the Nazis fleeing because of the Allied Forces rushing in to rescue. The climax isn’t certainly the greatest you will see, but it is satisfying indeed.
The movie is beautiful. I have to say that Robert Benigni created a near masterpiece that touches your heart, ignoring certain minor flaws. You can’t stop laughing and shedding tears of pathos at the same time. Benigni himself stated that he is a comedian and he doesn’t like to show things directly but he just wants to evoke emotion. It’s a perfect example of what we call comedy in tragedy. Although the movie received some hate reasonably because of the oversimplification and comic representation of the events that happened, it is understandable given that the audience had problems with Schindler’s List as well. I think that would be enough to show that what a certain group or a certain mass thinks doesn’t matter unless the content is blatantly inaccurate or in this case completely disrespectful which I think it’s not. A movie maker can never make a movie that is universally liked but can make a movie which touches hearts of many, which ‘Life is Beautiful’ did.
The author is a huge movie buff with special interest in neo-noir and sci-fi genres. When he gets tired of watching movies, he watches more of them.