“This is a simple story. But it's not easy to tell. Like a fable, there is sorrow, there is wonder and happiness.” So begins Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, a comic's meditation on the tragedy of the Holocaust. Set in Fascist Italy, the movie recounts the story of the Italian Jew, Guido Orefice, who is deported to a Nazi concentration camp together with his son Joshua and his Christian wife Dora. Guido is an endearingly hapless buffoon whose world is shaped by a combination of happenstance, both felicitous and unfortunate, and by his belief in love's abilities to sustain and transform. Both these things mark his life in the camp, where he dedicates himself to shielding his son from all knowledge of the ghastly surrounding reality by telling him that they and the other prisoners are really competitors in an elaborate game. Although Guido is ultimately killed in the Lager, he saves the spirit as well as the life of his son, who, following the fiction his father has created, exalts that he has won the game when he is reunited with his mother at the end of the film.
Already known to international audiences for his manic performance in Jim Jarmusch's 1986 Down by Law, Benigni gambled in making his trademark bumbler the vehicle of a Holocaust narrative.
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