I just watched "la vita e bella" an Italian film from 1997. It's a so called "Holocaust-Drama", though I believe that it's more than that. It's also a tragicomedy.
To be honest, I haven't laughed so much, like when I watched this picture, in a while. However, I also haven't cried so much in a while.
Roberto Benigni managed to get his message across.
It's basically about a jewish guy,called Guido who is portrayed to be a very easy-going person. He has great sense of humour but also is very intelligent. Guido can realise situations pretty fast and understands what is happening, but usually always finds a way to get out of trouble or inconvenient situations (the egg incident e.g.). La vita e bella is parted in two parts you could say. And that's how this post will look like. Separated in two parts.
Part I about Guido and how he met his wife Dora, part II about his time in Auschwitz.
Part I: An introduction of Guido, his lifestyle and how he met the love of his life.
Guido and his friend are both on their way to Rome to open a book store when their car breaks down (hilarious scene!) and the young man meets beautiful Dora - an elementary school teacher. He immediately falls in love with her. They meet several times before she finally kisses him and get together.
It's 1939 when Guido gets a job as a waiter for his uncle's hotel. The political situation is not yet that hard for him, but posters of angry looking Mussolini who established the race laws in Italy could be seen on walls already.
He first meets Dora while on a day trip with his friend when she fell down from a roof with Guido catching her as she falls. He calls her Principessa (princess) and introduces himself as a prince. Dora is immediately amused by his humour. They meet two more times, both meetings connected to funny incidents which caused me to laugh extremely much. His personality is really revitalising.
However, the symbolism of the growing racism in Italy at that time was also shown extra-ordinarily well when Guido's uncle's horse was painted in green and a message saying "a Jew's horse" was seen on it. Eliseo told Guido that it will happen to him, too, but Guido laughed it off telling "What should they do to me? Saying "A Jewish waiter?".
This happened on the day Dora and the prefect of Arezzo were about to announce her marriage plans.
They had their dinner at Eliseo's (the uncle) hotel and that's also when Dora kissed Guido. Before she listened to the headmistress of her school calculating the costs of cripples and sick people per day. Dora was rightly shocked when the headmistress recommended to kill all those people to save money. She first spoke about this as a mathematical equation for third graders in Germany at that time. Dora was also shocked that no one else was shocked about kids studying the economics of genocide.
However those are just minor details in the first part. It mostly focuses on Guido's life and all the funny things he experiences. I really don't want to spoil all those parts of the film, but they are really really funny. Roberto Begnini is a tremendous actor and director. A very charming person.
His intelligence in the picture is shown through his ability to speak in a poetical way. He can speak well in general. When he meets Dr. Lessing as a guest in Eliseo's hotel he solves his riddles (Lessing is obsessed wtih riddles) easily and makes up his own riddles spontaneously.
I think Dora gets interested in Guido mostly because of his humour and his light and positive character. Whenever she meets him you can see her smiling, while in moments without him she is sometimes quite unhappy, especially during that dinner when she is faced with her fiancés' ignorance towards racism and his brother, a sympathiser of the German regime. This is why she decided to leave her old life and go with Guido.
The scene when Guido is taking her away from dinner with the green painted horse is priceless. When they reach Eliseo's house (where Guido is staying) the first part of this film ends. A part which is characterised by humour, fantasy and lightness.
Part II: tragedy and 1000 points to finally win a tank
Guido and Dora got married and have a son. Giosué (Joshua) is 5 and his favourite toy is the toy of a tank. It is now 1944. Italy is sieged by Germany and anti-Semitism reached its peak.
It is shown how Guido and Giosué are walking down the street when Giosué sees a sign in a shop saying "No dogs or Jews allowed". He asked why it is like that and Guido answers, trying to keep the humour and shielding off all this anti-Semitism from his son, that it's normal. Every person doesn't like something and he jokes by saying he will put up a sign in his shop's window, as well.
Guido is being discriminated already, as when he closes his store a writing "Jewish store" is seen on the shutter.
Soon afterwards he gets taken away with his son from the Nazis. Dora lets herself be deported voluntarily after she found out her husband and son are being deported.
The score of the film was really positive until now and showed a happy mood, while now it gets darker and darker. Also this second half of La vita e bella sets on a totally different course than the first half. Now is shown how Guido,Giosué and Dora live in a concentration camp. Eliseo gets deported, as well, and he is being brought to "shower" (I think people know what I mean by this) immediately as he is already relatively old and so was not useful to the Nazis. One day also all the kids are about to get "showered", but Giosué manages to hide in the barrack where all the inmates sleep. Guido the so care-free, positive, light and happy man faces hard labour, depression and death now. However he is still as humorous and tries to laugh off several situations. He does this especially to protect his son. He tries to shield off all this tragedies and the whole situation by making up a game they all (inmates and guards) play. He can explain everything his son is asking (the clothes, the strictness, the yelling, the hard labour, etc) with the rules of this game and his son eventually believes it playing the game in order to win a new tank. This price was selected smartly by Guido, as the tank is Giosué's favourite toy (as mentioned above). The goal of this game is to earn 1000 points, then they could leave with a brand-new tank.
A very humorous scene is when guards came in to explain the situation to the inmates in Guido's barrack and ask if anybody of the inmates was able to speak German. Guido speaks up and translates (speaks and understands no word of German) the serious context of what the guards are saying in terms of the game he and his son are "playing". The other inmates look suspicious, but Giosué can hardly hide his laugh.
He often risks his life just to show Giosué that everything really is just a game. People tell Giosué the truth and he slowly realises the tragedy he is in, but Guido always manages to convince him that it's just a game.
Guido also meets Dr. Lessing again who is doctor in the concentration camp. He hopes that Lessing could help him to get out when Lessing saves him from the hard labour and lets him be a waiter for the SS officers. Unfortunately Lessing can't do much and mostly cares about his riddles. He looks helpless when Guido told him that his wife is in the camp, as well.
Life in camp continues and when the war is about to end it all seems to turn out well. Giosué eventually "wins the price" and gets his tank. But the price is high...
I really enjoyed watching this picture. As I explained before I laughed a lot, but also cried a lot. The score won an Oscar, as well as Begnini and I think both are deserved. The soundtrack manages to consume you in the whole world of La vita e bella, whether it's its positive and light side or its dark and sad side. The song I posted above is the end theme and one of my favourite tunes of the score. The acting is so brilliant. Begnini especially, but also the actors of his wife, his son, his uncle or even the guards acted so well. Everything seems so authentic and seems as it was real. Not just a film, but an unordinary tale life tells.
Which brings me to my final statement. Life is really something that cannot be categorised. A bad life or a good life is equally unreal. Sadness always follows happiness and happiness follows sadness, same goes for bad periods of life and good periods. That's just the regular cycle.