Life Is Beautiful  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian book shop owner, who must employ his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. Part of the film came from Benigni's own family history; before Roberto's birth, his father had survived three years of internment at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.


In Italy in 1939, Guido Orefice (Benigni) is a funny and charismatic young Jewish man looking for work in a city. He falls in love with a local school teacher, Dora (portrayed by Benigni's actual wife Nicoletta Braschi), who is to be engaged to a rich but arrogant civil servant. Guido engineers further meetings with her, seizing on coincidental incidents to declare his affection for her, and finally wins her over. He steals her from her engagement party on a horse, humiliating her fiance and mother. Soon they are married and have a son, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini).

Through the first part, the movie depicts the changing political climate in Italy: Guido frequently imitates members of the National Fascist Party, skewering their racist logic and pseudoscientific reasoning (at one point, jumping onto a table to demonstrate his "perfect Aryan bellybutton"). However, the growing Fascist wave is also evident: the horse Guido steals Dora away on has been painted green and covered in antisemitic insults.

Later during World War II, after Dora and her mother (Marisa Paredes) have reconciled, Guido, his Uncle Eliseo and Joshua are seized on Joshua's birthday, forced onto a train and taken to a concentration camp. Despite being a non-Jew, Dora demands to be on the same train to join her family. In the camp, Guido hides their true situation from his son, convincing him that the camp is a complicated game in which Joshua must perform the tasks Guido gives him, earning him points; the first team to reach one thousand points will win a tank. He tells him that if he cries, complains that he wants his mother, or says that he is hungry, he will lose points, while quiet boys who hide from the camp guards earn extra points.

Guido uses this game to explain features of the concentration camp that would otherwise be scary for a young child: the guards are mean only because they want the tank for themselves; the dwindling numbers of children (who are being killed by the camp guards) are only hiding in order to score more points than Joshua so they can win the game. He puts off Joshua's requests to end the game and return home by convincing him that they are in the lead for the tank, and need only wait a short while before they can return home with their tank. Despite being surrounded by the misery, sickness, and death at the camp, Joshua does not question this fiction because of his father's convincing performance and his own innocence.

Guido maintains this story right until the end when, in the chaos of shutting down the camp as the Americans approach, he tells his son to stay in a sweatbox until everybody has left, this being the final competition before the tank is his. Guido tries to find Dora, but is caught by a soldier. As he is marched off to be executed, he maintains the fiction of the game by deliberately marching in an exaggerated goose-step as he passes Joshua's hiding place.

The next morning, Joshua emerges from the sweatbox as the camp is occupied by an American armored division; he thinks he has won the game. The soldiers let him ride in the tank until, later that day, he sees Dora in the crowd of people streaming home from the camp. In the film, Joshua is a young boy; however, both the beginning and ending of the film are narrated by an older Joshua recalling his father's story of sacrifice for his family.

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Life Is Beautiful" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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