It's true for me (and for many other critics) that the less I have to say about a movie, the better it is. One thing I'll have to say, though, is this movie didn't wasn't as good as I expected it to be; maybe I've heard too many good things about this movie beforehand. In it, we find something beautiful, exotic, sad; the same something we find in every movie that features another tongue and foreign soil. The distinct, anti- Hollywood glamour movie that almost inevitably receives a nod for Outstanding Foreign Movie at the Oscars. I'm not trying to downplay the quality of this film; it's just that it seems we're all too ready to embrace these type of movies these days just because of what they are. It's because of this reason that I label "Life is Beautiful" as something less than "excellent."
That aside, "Life" had all the makings of a good anti-Holocaust movie. The bittersweet memories are there, the horror is there, the pathos is there. Roberto Benigni's character is carefree, reckless, mischievous, yet good natured and every bit the loving father and husband. Benigni's performance is stellar, and it's the gradual destruction of this uninhibited, innocent soul that is at the core of the movie's message. He did everything he could to save his family, he laughed in the face of death and persecution, but fate destroyed him anyway. How cruel is destiny, how ruthless the German Nazi's, that even a man of such tenacity can be broken? Because we've gotten to know this adorable family so well--from the anecdotes of the courtship and the education of the little boy Joshua which provides some extremely funny moments--the deaths seem all the more tragic, the survival all the more bittersweet.
It's equally marvelous that we not only see the story of this family, we see aspects of each part of the human spectrum, each part that's part of what makes life "beautiful," through good times, bad times, and war times. Suffice to say that our hero did not die in vain.
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 1/27/99)