"Life is Beautiful" was controversial when it was released in 1997 because it treats the Holocaust in a comedic fashion. "Life is Beautiful" uses dark humor to show a level of absurdity in the Holocaust. The gas chambers were disguised as showers, and the doomed prisoners were told they had been taken to the death camps to work; the absurdity of this film is consistent with that level of deceit. Its star, Roberto Benigni co-wrote, directed and starred in this movie, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1999. The film was critically acclaimed, and it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Benigni plays Guido Orefice, an Italian Jew and waiter. Guido charms Dora, an aristocratic schoolteacher played by the actor's real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi. They have a son named Giosue. The film portrays the Nazis in a simple way, applying to them the epithet "The Bad Men Who Yell."
In "Life is Beautiful," the first scene presents the film as a "fable" and uses the comedic antics of one father to highlight the absurdity of the Nazi regime and its effects on his small family. The first part of the film recounts the humorous antics of Guido and the lengths he goes to to win the heart of Dora, a woman above his station. He steals her away at her wedding to another man. Years pass and their child, Giosue, is born.
In the midst of World War II, father and son arrive at the camp, and the gray tones are a stark contrast to the vibrant, purposely oversaturated bright colors of the Italian landscape. To make the situation less frightening to his son, Guido portrays the camp as a game and the participants as players. He says that if the son is good, he will gain 1,000 points in the game and win a tank. He explains that the guards are mean because they want the tank for themselves. The 4-year-old believes his father.
A Nazi guard shoots Guido as Guisue hides in a box during the chaos of the American liberation of the camp. Even at this, Guido keeps up the ruse that it is all a game.
There is an escalating level of violence in "Life is Beautiful." Guido's death -- after a long string of daring escapes and clever resourcefulness -- is unexpected. He lived life on his own terms and was an expert at manipulating situations, yet in the end he was killed. The ending reunites Giosue with his mother and shows the liberation of the concentration camps by the Allied army. She approaches the boy on an American tank, and he believes he has won the game.
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