Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Classics Rocked: Life Is Beautiful

The reputation: Much-hyped-at-the-time 1998 film about a man who attempts to protect his son from the horrors of the death camp they are in.

Why it's not as good as you think: Uhhhhh, it's not good at all. I can see why some people thought this movie was touching and a good idea, but it was completely misguided. First of all, it's a "comedy" about the Holocaust. I don't think that this is an idea that is completely out of bounds if done properly, but I didn't laugh once during Life Is Beautiful. Strike One.
For those who haven't experienced the horror of this overpraised trainwreck, let me save you the trouble: Italian Jew Guido (Roberto Benigni) arrives in small village, and woos beautiful Dora by being somehow less of an @$$ than her fiance, and by using cheap parlor tricks to mesmerize her into ignoring his obvious looks, and lack of personality. Benigni's aggravating "love-child of Pee Wee Herman and a Marx Brother" persona is Strike Two. Benigni's wife Nicoletta Braschi's performance as Dora is the film's sole saving grace, and keeps it from being COMPLETELY toxic to children and other living things. Fast forward a few years later. The Holocaust is in "full effect," and Guido, Dora and young son Joshua are tossed in a concentration camp. In an effort to shield Joshua from the horror that surrounds them, Guido tells him that the camp is a "hiding game," and that the winner gets a tank. (Ok....I have to give credit where it's due, again. That concept is so sick, it's ****ing hilarious.) Despite the fact that THEY ARE IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP AND PEOPLE ARE CRYING AND BEING MISERABLE AND GETTING SHOT AND GASSED AND DYING all around them, Joshua buys it. This is where the film REALLY loses me.....I just can't but the fact that nobody around tries to offer the kid up to the guards in an attempt to save their own butt: human beings are far too selfish. I can believe a man can fly, and toss planets around, but this is beyond the wildest sci-fi. Strike Three, yerrrrrr out. Anyway, Guido is shot by guards, and Joshua is reunited with his mother as American forces arrive to save the day. How bittersweet. Eeeeeechchhhh.

I refuse to believe that this film won an Oscar. I think that there was a wormhole ala Donnie Darko, and our section of the Academy Award was switched with the corresponding part of the ceremony from Bizarro World, and none of our quantum scientists caught the gaffe. Arrrgh. Me love Life is Beautiful. Me say hello now!

Dr.Worm's Response: Really? The story of a man trying to protect his son from the horrors of the Holocaust--even losing his life in the process--doesn't do it for you? Not at all moved by the noble concept of self-sacrifice? Well, to each his own, I guess.
But was there a line in there about Guido having a "lack of personality"? I'm trying to wrap my mind around that one, and I'm having trouble. Guido oozed personality. His personality jumped off the screen. You might not have liked his personality--though I have no idea why, the Academy and I found him perfectly winsome--but there's no way you can say he lacks personality. It's like saying Shaquille O'Neal isn't tall.
And you didn't laugh once? Not even at lines like "I don't like Visigoths. Tomorrow, we'll get sign: 'No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed'"? And you found Guido annoying? Even as he's saying, "I want to make love to you--not just once, but over and over again! But I'll never tell you that. I'd have to be crazy to tell you. I'd even make love to you now." See, your strikes one and two were both home runs for me. I'll grant that it's a little tough to believe that Joshua never catches on about the game, but I think the film is self-aware enough to know that, too. So I'll call that a foul ball.
I find it difficult to believe that you were unmoved by such a charming, captivating, and good-hearted film. Perhaps, while you watched it, you were sitting on a tack, being pestered by mosquitoes, and battling a case of mumps. That's the only way this savaging makes any sense to me.


Particle Man said...

eloquently cutting as always, YRF. as for my own opinion, i found Roberto Begnini to be mildly amusing, but ultimately annoying. i had a hard time with the "Holocaust is funny" aspect (those silly Nazis...), and i had ZERO interest in the first part of the movie. however, i think it's more of a bug in the ear than an abomination, though i am mystified that Bagnini won Best Actor. if by "Best" you mean "Most Retarded," maybe.

Dr. Worm said...

First of all, it's Benigni. Not Begnini. Not Bagnini. Benigni.

Secondly, I'm blown away that you didn't love his performance. Clearly, neither of you have any tolerance for whimsy.

Wicked Little Critta said...

I almost don't even know what to type...I'm so flustered.
Did you people even watch the movie? This is no "comedy about the holocaust," and there was absolutely no support for saying that there was any "holocaust is funny" aspect. You've totally missed it.
The film is about a man, and his sacrifice and love for his family. He just happens to be a very fun, flamboyant, whimsical character. Some people are like that. You don't have to love his character, though. That's not the point.
His character just happens to be caught in the terror of the holocaust. Now, since I thought of this as more of a family film, sure: we didn't see the extent of the terror that existed. But just because it's a movie about that period in time, doesn't mean it HAS to show people being gassed and shot and tortured. That's not the focus of the film, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The focus was Guido's love for his family. There were times where he was clearly worried and affected by what was going on around him. But for the love of his wife, he played an opera for her to hear in the midst of her nightmare. For the love of his son, he pretended that it was a game. He wasn't an idiot...he just stayed faithful to those most important to him, even to the point of death.
And by the way, that little boy could not have been any more than 5, and while it's a bit of a stretch that he didn't pick up a lot of the terrible things going on around him, there have been far bigger stretches in film. Besides, do you know how much a 4 or 5 year old will believe what you tell them??? This is not a rational adult we're dealing with, here.

Wicked Little Critta said...

On a different note, what I really loved about this film can be summed up in the title.
In reality, life kinda stinks. Sure there are bright spots here and there, but life is difficult, for some amazingly so. I think we'd all agree that those who experienced concentration camps are up there.
But psychology has a lot to do with quality of life. Those who endured concentration camps have said that the people who lost hope tended to die faster, and those that were helping others, sharing their food, and looking towards the end, tended to survive. Studies show this as well. And it's common sense. If the mind stops really living, the body proceeds to shut down as well. We see it all the time...there are people who have great lives: plenty of money, friends, decent job, and great potential. Yet they can't get up in the morning and face the day. Then there are people who come up against incredible odds...surrounded by death, disease, and hatred, yet they determine to live with joy and happiness.
And so, even though the reality was that life is CRAPPY, for Guido (and because of him, for Dora and Joshua) life is beautiful. It is beautiful because he made it beautiful. Which is the best that anyone can do in life.

Stormy Pinkness said...

I LOVED the character of Guido with his Schopenhauer will power thing, and the part where Guido translated for the German guard had me laughing hysterically!!!! Also the whole Joshua hating bathing thing had me very interested, knowing what happened at some of these camps. I can't believe that some people found Guido lacking a personality. And excuse particle man, Mildly Retarded, I think it was exactly the opposite. He had to act in a way to convince his son, all whiel going through a concentration camp, a person with limited mental capacity could not pull that off so I do not know where you got mildly retarded from.

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with Dr. Worm on this one. Life is Beautiful deserved an Oscar.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Being the wicked entity that she is, WLC is forcing me to repeat the following offline correspondence in here:

I don't want to add a comment to your blog just saying "wow, you're spot on", so I will do it via email.
WLC - wow, you're spot on with your comments on Life Is Beautiful. I don't think there is a way I could have put it as well as you did; reading your comments was one of those moments when I said to myself "you idiot, why can't you express yourself so clearly, too".
Anyway, douze points, WLC!
(you probably don't know what I'm talking about with "douze points"; it's a Eurovision thing and you wouldn't know what a Eurovision is, so you'll have to take my word for it - it's a complement)

Particle Man said...

well, apparently i'm wrong. ;-)

Wicked Little Critta said...

I don't know if I'd use the word wrong...maybe just misguided. ;)