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Film / Life Is Beautiful

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Life Is Beautiful (or La vita è bella in the original Italian) is a 1997 Italian tragicomedy film about The Holocaust. Starring Roberto Benigni (who also wrote and directed it), the film won three Academy Awards: Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor. Benigni went down in notoriety for the middle one, being so excited by his win that he climbed over the seats of the Academy members in front of him and bunny-hopped up to the stage to claim his award. (See it here. That's Sophia Loren presenting.)

The first half of the film contains elements of the Romantic Comedy, featuring a young Italian Jew named Guido Orefice planning to set up his own bookstore, working as a waiter, and trying his best to romance Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a young Christian schoolteacher who comes from a much richer family, while living with his uncle. Several years pass, and the two have a son, but become estranged from the rich relatives: however, they begin to reconcile.

Nevertheless, the second half of the film takes a turn for the dark: Guido, his uncle Eliseo and his son Giosuè are taken to a concentration camp. His wife chooses to be deported with her family but is separated at a different part of the camp. Giosuè is hidden from the Nazis and Guido tries his very best to keep the actual darkness of the camp from his son.

Life Is Beautiful provides examples of:

  • Are We There Yet?: During the trip to the concentration camp, Giosuè asks this a number of times.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Guido's son ends up getting the tank; Guido himself dies, but his wife survives and he shielded his child from the horrors of the Holocaust until he is old enough to understand.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The tank.
    • When Guido is romancing Dora, the key, the seven seconds riddle, and the hat switch.
    • "It's the idiot with the eggs!"
  • Chekhov's Gag: Giosuè's attempts to avoid having a shower are quite amusing halfway through the film. His hatred of them ends up saving his life in the concentration camp when he escapes the women rounding the kids up.
  • Children Are Innocent: Guido believes this; he tries to pass The Holocaust off as a game to avoid traumatizing his son. This is the "translation" of the camp's rules he gives his son:
    "The game starts now. You have to score one thousand points. If you do that, you take home a tank with a big gun. Each day we will announce the scores from that loudspeaker. The one who has the fewest points will have to wear a sign that says 'Jackass' on his back. There are three ways to lose points. One, turning into a big crybaby. Two, telling us you want to see your mommy. Three, saying you're hungry and want something to eat."
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Guido, full stop. It's actually a subtle subversion of Benigni's usual over-the-top roles, in the sense that Guido is actually saner than other people think.
  • Coincidental Accidental Disguise: Guido's car brakes go out and through a series of remarkable accidents they are somehow mistaken for the King of Italy driving through a nearby town.
  • Consummate Liar: Guido is a heroic example of this trope.
  • Could Say It, But...: How Guido confesses his attraction to Dora.
    Guido: You can't imagine how much I feel like making love to you. But I'll never tell anyone, especially not you. They'd have to torture me to make me say it.
    Dora: Say what?
    Guido: That I want to make love to you — not just once, but over and over again! But I'll never tell you that. I'd have to be crazy to tell you.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Guido to Dora in the first part of the film.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Subverted and inverted. Dora mentions that the Nazis at least don't make children or the elderly work, but her companion points out that it's only because they are sent directly to the gas chambers.
  • Evil All Along: Played with - Dr. Lessing is introduced as a humble visiting German doctor during the first half of the film and largely disappears after a couple of scenes. But not before befriending Guido. Guido later meets him as a doctor at the concentration camp, and seeing Guido gives him an unfortunate reminder the "untermenschen" around him are human beings. He's clearly ashamed of himself, but seems in no hurry to quit.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: Surprisingly averted or at least played with. While the second half of this film is darker than the first and much more serious, it never truly loses the spirit of the humor involved - its handling of this is probably why it won many awards. Rare is the movie that can continue to make you laugh and keep up the seriousness of The Holocaust.
  • Guile Hero: Guido. Some of his little tricks include: fooling a customer at a restaurant into ordering exactly what Doctor Lessing had ordered, as Lessing was too preoccupied with his riddle to even touch his food, allowing the customer to immediately get his meal, and making Dora pray for Guido to get a new hat just as the man Guido stayed with came and switched his hat with Guido's, as Guido had switched them earlier.
    • Becomes deadly serious at the camp - probably the most notable moment being when Giosu&egrave absent-mindedly lets slip a "grazie" when he's pretending to be a German child. This is overheard by a Nazi, who goes to report it, only to return and find that Guido's hurriedly taught all the German children to say it, and provide a cover story for how Giosuè knows the word.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half of the film is about Guido trying to make Dora fall in love with him. The second half is about him trying to keep his wife and child alive.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Guido takes a sleeping Giosuè through the camp, only to find what appears to be a pile of bodies, partially concealed by darkness and mist.
    • Dora has one too when she realies that the Nazis don't send kids and elderly people to work because they kill them all through the gas chambers. She becomes paralyzed fearing that Giosuè might one day be killed or even that he's already dead.
  • Hide and No Seek: Done to save Giosuè's life as the panicking Germans are executing every concentration camp prisoner they can get their hands on.
  • Hot Teacher: Dora.
  • Hope Spot: In the prison camp, Guido meets Doctor Lessing again, who looks visibly shaken seeing his friend there and asks to meet him later. Guido tries to find an opportunity to tell him about his wife and son in the hopes of somehow getting one or both out, but when they manage to talk properly, he finds out that the only reason Doctor Lessing tried to talk to him again was to consult in another riddle (and is possibly suffering Sanity Slippage from what he's doing, and is using the single-minded focus on a riddle to keep going). Later it turns out that it's actually a subversion, as the riddle in question is a colorful metaphor meant to covertly give Guido an idea of how to get his family out of the camp.
  • Karma Houdini: The camp's guard staff all managed to escape just minutes before the U.S. Army arrives to liberate it.
  • Mood Whiplash: Dora reconciles with her mother and invites her to her house, but as soon as they walk in, they find out Guido and Giosuè were arrested by the Gestapo.
  • Narrator: An adult Giosuè, briefly, at the beginning and the end.
  • Not My Driver: One of the stunts Guido performs to attempt to win Dora's love.
  • Oh, Crap!: Many German Nazi officers and their children are visiting the concentration camp, so Guido, who is working as a waiter for the dinner, smuggles Giosuè in with the kids so he can have a real meal. But then Giosuè lets slip a "Grazie": an Italian word that none of the German kids would say. This is the first time in the entire movie that Guido has shown actual fear.
  • Oscar Bait: Well, it probably wasn't conceived as such, but the movie's heavy and touchy themes made its awards much, much more predictable.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Dora's mother wanted her to marry her rich fiancé, and they remain estranged for a few years when she marries Guido instead.
  • Parenting the Husband: Albeit for a very short while.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Dr. Lessing's work as a concentration camp doctor. He's not a sadistic man and doesn't seem to harbor any particular hatred for the camp inmates; he simply sees his role as a job and probably as a national service duty.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • In a real life example, Roberto Benigni made a nominal comedy about The Holocaust, the supreme film artistic challenge that got him hailed as a master filmmaker for doing something even Charlie Chaplin would never have dared.
    • This is pretty much the reason Guido gets away with half the stuff he pulls, ranging from his repeated run-ins with Dora to announcing over the intercom system of a concentration camp.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Dora has a very rich but obnoxious fiancé; at the beginning of the movie, whom she later breaks up with to be with Guido.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Uncle Eliseo is deported along with Guido and his family, and is the first family member to be gassed shortly after Guido's funny translation. This establishes quickly that, while Guido's antics may extort a few chuckles, what is going on is pure hell.
  • Silly Walk: Guido mimics the goose stepping march of the guards to amuse his son. It's the last thing he ever does.
  • Something Only They Would Say: "Buongiorno Principessa!" is the pickup line Guido uses several times to be noticed by Dora during the first half, and uses when he hijacks the concentration camp's speaker system to let her know that he and Giosuè are still alive in the second.
  • Stalking Is Love: The standard rom-com variety; Guido repeatedly setting up meetings between him and Dora wins her over, despite doing nothing to encourage him at first.
  • Tank Goodness: The tank that finally arrives at the camp as part of the liberation force is an American M4 Sherman.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: As well as the real deal.
  • You Are Worth Hell: Dora chooses to go to the concentration camp to be with her Jewish son and husband. Especially tragic since they're separated anyway.