When I decided to write a film review for this issue of the 8:10, a single film, a unique film, took over my mind. A film that is at once memorable and terrible, happy and heartbreaking. A movie that you think about long after it has ended. I’m referring to the fantastic and superbly shot “La Vita e Bella”. Roberto Benigni’s creation is a masterpiece.

“La Vita e Bella” is an Italian movie directed by Roberto Bengini. It stars Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini. The movie won the Grand Prix at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, nine David di Donatello Awards (including Best Film), five Nastro d’Argento Awards in Italy, two European Film Awards, and three Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for Benigni, the first for a male non-English performance.The film was partially inspired by the book “In the End, I Beat Hitler” by Rubino Romeo Salmonì and by Benigni’s father, who spent two years in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II.

Guido, played by Benigni, is a young man who relocates to the city of Arezzo in order to start a bookstore. He runs into Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) a few times by happenstance, and the two start to fall in love. As the nation is under Nazi occupation, they get married and have a child five years later. Guido, Dora and their son, Joshua, are sent to a concentration camp. Guido fabricates a narrative in which the camp is a competition with a winner and reward that they are all out to win in an effort to prevent Joshua from fathoming what is happening.

“La Vita e Bella” is undoubtedly a movie with two distinct halves. The second half is as dark and tragic as life can be. Very frightening, it offers a dramatic contrast to the first half’s laughter, which is matched in volume and amount by the tears shed during the second half of this remarkable movie. The small family is  deported and separated. . When Guido and his son wind up in a concentration camp, Guido’s creativity and comedic talents shine through. To amuse his son, he invents a game and a set of tasks based on the depressing realities of daily life. He utterly rejects giving in to hopelessness.

A still from the movie

Several people claim that this movie is too joyful to be about the Holocaust. The fact that a father chooses to shield his child’s innocence from the horrors of a camp by pretending it’s all one big game, from playing hide and seek to “making fun of” whatever rumors the son heard about what happens in the camp, is truly sad in and of itself. We all know very well that a concentration camp was no amusement park, and the movie didn’t mask what the Jews suffered before and during their imprisonment. The two stories in this movie were both wonderfully written and full of emotion. It is a movie that first warms your heart before breaking it. a movie that first makes you cry and then makes you laugh. A movie that beautifully expresses every feeling.

The film is a masterpiece of hope and determination. A film that shows great light and joy, whilst also embracing the horrors of Holocaust.

In this film, Roberto Benigni really outdid himself. He expertly crafts and weaves the narrative, striking the ideal balance between drama and humor to produce a work that is both compelling and entertaining. He is also tremendously good as Guido, an entirely delightful and captivating person. Benigni excels at both his early roles as a lovable harlequin trying to win over Dora, his prized love, and his later roles as a determined father.

Nicoletta Braschi portrays a lady in love who is willing to sacrifice all for her family with consummate skill. Giorgio Cantarini, a child actor, was fantastic as the endearing Joshua.

“La Vita e Bella” is one of those films that will stay with you long after the credits roll. It’s a strong reminder about one of the worst tragedies of recent history, while at the same time a testament to human strength and family. The way the Holocaust is portrayed, with so much left unsaid, is poignant and genuinely scary. For the most part it does feel like you’re experiencing it through the eyes of a child, as Joshua goes along with the game out of fear of missing out on the prize, but at the same time suspects his father isn’t being completely truthful about everything.

This isn’t a story about the horrors of the Holocaust, but instead it’s about the lengths a father would go to protect his son from the world around him. It’s a heart-breaking tale about family and survival. What starts off as a light-hearted and silly rom-com turns into a tragic and powerful film. It’s an emotional journey from start to finish and one that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.

-Ketaki Deshpande

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