Monday, January 05, 2009

La Vita è bella - Life Is Beautiful

Last night we watched a movie I feel good about recommending. The 1997 film "Life is Beautiful" ("La Vita è bella" in the original Italian) is a fascinating story set in WWII Italy. The story is about a happy-go-lucky fellow named Guido (played by Roberto Benigni, who also directed) who falls in love and wins the heart of his lady with his wild, wacky and sometimes absurd sense of humor.

The first part of the story is set in 1939 and tells about the meeting of Guido and Dora when Guido moves into town to work with his uncle at a high-class hotel restaurant. Guido orchestrates a number of "accidental" meetings where he uses his sense humor to win Dora over. The plan works and they marry and have a son.

The second part of the story is much darker. Set in 1945, Guido and his family are targeted for harassment because they are Jews. Guido, his uncle and his son are carted off to a concentration camp. Though she is not Jewish, Dora joins them on the train and is put into the same camp as her husband and son. 

Guido uses his fantastic sense of humor to convince his son they are on a trip planned for his birthday and that the stay at the concentration camp is part of an elaborate game in an effort to win the "grand prize." He even takes the ruse so far as to pretend to leave when his son announces he's tired of the game and wants to go home. 

Although separated in separate male and female parts of the camp, Guido also manages to send special messages to his wife from time to time.

The story culminates when the war comes to an end. Guido hides his son and tries to find his wife to prevent them being carted off and executed by the retreating Germans.

This movie reminded me a bit of "Jakob The Liar" where Robin Williams portrays a Jew in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII who makes up stories about hearing radio announcements to keep up hope in his circle of acquaintances. It also brought back to mind "Closely Watched Trains" ("Ostře sledované vlaky"), the Czech movie about a rail worker in WWII Czechoslovakia.

"Life is Beautiful" is a great story, a jab at Fascism and a lesson in love and sacrifice. The dubbed version we watched streamed off Netflix web site was very well done. Check it out.

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