Thursday, June 12, 2008

Life is Beautiful

We watched Life is Beautiful as part of the Dads in Media Blogathon being hosted at Strange Culture. I chose it because of the key role played by the dad and because it has been on the Arts & Faith list of Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films, though I don't see it on their current list. All I knew about the film was that the dad succeeded in keeping his son alive and in good spirits in a WW2 Nazi concentration camp -no mean feat. It turned out to be everything The Husband dislikes in a film, so the dad in our house wasn't overly thrilled with this choice: not only was it a foreign (Italian) film with subtitles, it had much sadness. It had much laughter, too, but sadness was preponderant in the second half.


The BBC review points out some problems:
It may have been showered with awards (including three Oscars) and struck box-office gold around the world, but "La Vita è Bella" remains a deeply problematic contribution to the growing body of films about the Holocaust.

The Guardian's review shares the discomfort:
He's managed to make his film without offending the world. La Vita è Bella has broken Italian box-office, and been hugely acclaimed in the US. The Pope has given it at least implicit blessing by having it privately screened, and it's been given a special award by the State of Israel. But I can't help feeling we've turned a corner in the way we think about the Holocaust when a film this naively blundering can pass without question.

The Observer agrees:
Benigni's affirmation has been bought at far too high a price and has a hollow, dispiriting ring.

EW didn't approve either.

Roger Ebert had some positive words:
``Life Is Beautiful'' is not about Nazis and Fascists, but about the human spirit. It is about rescuing whatever is good and hopeful from the wreckage of dreams. About hope for the future.

As I read the reviews I remembered the complaints that Hogan's Heroes made the Germans look stupid and made it look like a lark to be in a concentration camp. But those complaints, like the complaints the reviewers shared about Life is Beautiful, miss the point, in my mind. The dad here is the hero and the focus of the film. His world is his family, and that's what's important to him: he places the well-being of his family, both their physical and emotional well-being, above everything else. I think of a quote from the Monkees movie Head about the human mind being unable to distinguish between reality and the vividly imagined experience. This dad turns a living hell into a livable experience for his son.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:26 AM

    I'll need to check this movie out at some point. Thanks!