Life Is Beautiful

Director: Roberto Benigni
Year Released: 1999
Rating: 2.0

Roberto Benigni robbed Tom Hanks out of his Oscar for his performance in this film, which he also wrote and directed and mangled. This is a fairy-tale set during WWII in which the loopy, Jerry Lewis-esque Benigni (playing a half-Jew named Guido) falls in love with a dull schoolteacher (played by his real-life wife, who isn't a very good actress and whose role is one-dimensional and never fleshed out), steals her from her would-be beau, marries her and they have a kid together. Later, Guido and son are rounded up by the Fascists in which they go to a concentration camp, and Guido makes the Holocaust into a 'game' in order to protect his son from what's really happening (some people saw this as irreverent, I disagree ... in fact, I admire Benigni's audacity). The first hour is sweet and delightful: it reminds me of both Nights of Cabiria and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in its charm and beautiful set design. The second hour isn't bad, with most of the action taking place in the concentration camp ... but the problem is that part one has nothing to do with part two. Part one is a love story, part two is about laughing in the face of adversity, with a father shielding his son from traumatic horrors of the Nazi regime (the love story is almost completely ditched). For some reason I think that this would have worked best as a two-part film (like Jean De Florette and its sequel Manon of the Spring) instead of just one.