Life is Beautiful (La Vita E Bella, 1997)

Directed by Roberto Benigni

Who’s in it? Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi

What’s it about? Winner of three Oscars including Best Actor for director Benigni (who also stars) and Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Grand Prix at Cannes, Life is Beautiful is a charming, funny and moving account of one man’s optimistic attitude to life and his courage in passing his joie de vivre to his son, even in the face of unspeakable evil. The film follows the story of happy-go-lucky book shop owner Guido as he and his son find themselves in a concentration camp together and must use their imagination to survive. A powerful and life affirming tale of perseverance, even joy, in adversity, the film is at times sorrowful and sobering but never depressing, fizzing with the irrepressible spirit of its larger than life message of hope amid horror.

Memorable moments? In the camp Guido pretends to his son that the whole thing is a game they’re playing with the Nazis and encourages him not to be frightened but to play along. One scene sees Guido marching comically in front of machine gun wielding soldiers as his son looks on and smiles in a sequence that’s as laughable as it is heart-breaking.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘In the real death camps there would be no role for Guido. But Life Is Beautiful is not about Nazis and Fascists, but about the human spirit.’ – Roger Ebert

Like that? Try this: Also dealing with the Holocaust in a surprising way, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) manages to be a family film in a grown up way, revisiting the theme of loss of innocence, through an unexpected childhood friendship.

Trivia pursuit: The plot is partly inspired by Benigni’s own Jewish-Italian up-bringing during which his own father was interned by the Nazis in a concentration camp for three years before his birth.   

Ronan Wright is a graduate in Film Studies from The Queen’s University of Belfast. As well as contributing to MercatorNet as a film critic since March 2011 he has run Filmplicity, a Belfast-based film...