Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian tragicomedy drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian book keeper, who must employ his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. Part of the film came from Benigni's own family history; before his birth Roberto's father had survived three years of internment at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The film was a critical and financial success, winning Benigni the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 71st Academy Awards as well as the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
In 1930s Italy, Guido Orefice (Benigni) is a funny and charismatic young man looking for work in a city. He falls in love with a local school teacher, Dora (portrayed by Benigni's actual wife Nicoletta Braschi), who is to be engaged to a rich but arrogant civil servant. Guido engineers further meetings with her, seizing on coincidental incidents to declare his affection for her, and finally wins her over. He steals her from her engagement party on a horse, humiliating her fiance and mother. Soon they are married and have a son, Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini). Through the first part, the movie depicts the changing political climate in Italy: Guido frequently imitates Nazi party members, skewering their racist logic and pseudoscientific reasoning (at one point, jumping onto a table to demonstrate his "perfect Aryan bellybutton"). However, the growing racist wave is also evident: the horse Guido steals Dora away on has been painted green and covered in antisemitic insults. In 1945, after Dora and her mother (Marisa Paredes) are reconciled, Guido, his Uncle Eliseo and Giosuè are seized on Giosuè's birthday, forced onto a train and taken to a concentration camp. Despite being a non-Jew, Dora demands to be on the same train to join her family. In the camp, Guido hides their true situation from his son, convincing him that the camp is a complicated game in which Giosuè must perform the tasks Guido gives him, earning him points; the first team to reach one thousand points will win a tank. He tells him that if he cries, complains that he wants his mother, or says that he is hungry, he will lose points, while quiet boys who hide from the camp guards earn extra points. Guido uses this game to explain features of the concentration camp that would otherwise be scary for a young child: the guards are mean only because they want the tank for themselves; the dwindling numbers of children (who are being killed by the camp guards) are only hiding in order to score more points than Giosuè so they can win the game. He puts off Giosuè's requests to end the game and return home by convincing him that they are in the lead for the tank, and need only wait a short while before they can return home with their tank. Despite being surrounded by the misery, sickness and death at the camp, Giosuè does not question this fiction because of his father's convincing performance and his own innocence. Guido maintains this story right until the end when, in the chaos of shutting down the camp as the Americans approach, he tells his son to stay in a sweatbox until everybody has left, this being the final competition before the tank is his. Guido tries to find Dora, but is caught and executed by a Nazi soldier. As he is marched off to be executed, he maintains the fiction of the game by deliberately marching in an exaggerated goose-step. The next morning, Giosuè emerges from the sweatbox as the camp is occupied by an American armored division. They let him ride in the tank until, later than day, he sees Dora in the crowd of people streaming out of the camp. In the film, Giosuè is four and a half years old; however, both the beginning and ending of the film are narrated by an older Giosuè recalling his father's story of sacrifice for his family.
- Roberto Benigni as Guido Orefice
- Nicoletta Braschi as Dora
- Giorgio Cantarini as Giosué Orefice
- Giustino Durano as Eliseo Orefice
- Sergio Bini Bustric as Ferruccio Papini (as Sergio Bustric)
- Marisa Paredes as Madre di Dora
- Horst Buchholz as Doctor Lessing (as Horst Bucholz)
- Lidia Alfonsi as Guicciardini
- Giuliana Lojodice as School Principal
- Amerigo Fontani as Rodolfo
- Pietro De Silva as Bartolomeo
- Francesco Guzzo as Vittorino
- Raffaella Lebboroni as Elena
- Claudio Alfonsi as Amico Rodolfo
- Gil Baroni as Prefect
Life Is Beautiful was shown at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to win the Grand Prize. At the 71st Academy Awards, the film won awards for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, and Best Foreign Language Film, with Benigni winning Best Actor for his role. The film also received Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.
Life Is Beautiful became commercially successful. After its release on October 23, 1998, the film went on to gross $57.24 million in North America, and $171.60 million internationally, with a worldwide gross of $229,163,264.
The film also received mostly positive reviews, with the movie aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a "Fresh" 80% rating. Despite its acclaim, actor-director Roberto Benigni received criticism for its comedic elements incorporated into the backdrop of The Holocaust. Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars, stating, "At Cannes, it offended some left-wing critics with its use of humor in connection with the Holocaust. What may be most offensive to both wings is its sidestepping of politics in favor of simple human ingenuity. The film finds the right notes to negotiate its delicate subject matter." The film has a rating of 8.5/10 on the Internet Movie Database and is currently ranked as the 60th greatest film of all time on IMDb's Top 250 chart.
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