On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember all who survived the Holocaust as well as those who perished in concentration camps. Even though the Holocaust has caused suffering and loss to mankind, it has also inspired noteworthy art works, books, films, plays and documentaries. The greatest film about the Holocaust is Benigni’s film, Life Is Beautiful, for it delves deep into the psyche of Holocaust victims showing us that the human spirit is truly indomitable.
At first, the movie has a happy tone. Just like the title of the film, there is no doubt that life is beautiful for the Orefice family. Robert Benigni, starring as Guido Orefice, is a Jewish Italian bookstore owner. Nicoletta Braschi, starring as Dora Orefice, is Guido’s wife and Benigni’s wife in real life as well. Giorgio Cantanini, starring as Giosue Orefice, is the son of Guido and Dora. Together they are both doting parents who are very much in love. Guido often calls Dora, “Princess.”
Unfortunately, their idyllic life ends when WWII breaks out. On Giosue’s birthday, the Orefice family is coerced to board a train that will take them to a concentration camp. In this part of the film, you see how families are separated from their loved ones. Giosue is taken away from his mother, Dora, and rides the train to the concentration camp with Guido, his dad.
Once they arrive at the camp, Guido devises a plan to help his son, Giosue, survive. Since he is just and innocent boy, Giosue does not yet understand the horrors of war. Guido tells Giosue that being in a concentration camp is a complex game. He tells his son to do the duties that he is told to do. He also tells him that those chores will earn points. He warns his son that those who cry or whine will lose points. Giving Giosue a motivation to play the game, Guido tells him that the person who gets one thousand points wins the game and gets a tank.
Through his critically acclaimed performance, we see Benigni giving the performance of a lifetime. In the face of such a tragedy, he acts comically to protect his son. He convinces Giosue that his time at the concentration camp is a game. Showing us the special bond between father and son, he shields the truth from his son to save his life. Some critics are offended by the comedy in this film, but it is this kind of comedy that makes us cry rather than laugh.
At the end of the movie, Guido faces a tragic fate. After searching for his wife, Dora, a German solider catches him. Despite the fact that he is aware that he is facing the last minutes of his life, he still marches comically as he passes by his son one last time. Guido is shot and killed.
From a box, Giosue emerges and finally spots the tank that saves him. He yells, “I won!” He is reunited with his mother, Dora. Just as the film ends, we hear the voice of Giosue, as an adult, thanking his dad for all the sacrifices that he made for him.
For his outstanding performance, as Guido Orefice, Benigni won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1998 at the 71st Academy Awards. Life Is Beautiful so won two other Academy Awards. It won for Best Original Dramatic Score. In addition to its Academy Award winning music, it also won an Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film.
As well as giving the best performance of his career, Benigni also co-wrote the script of Life Is Beautiful with Vincenzo Cerami. Bengini was inspired by his dad’s story of the Holocaust. Luigi Benigni, Benigni’s father, spent three years in a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen. Even though his story was sad, he told it with humor. Benigni was also motivated by Rabino Romero Salmoni’s book, In The End, I Beat Hitler.
When Life Is Beautiful was televised on the Italian television station RAI on October 22, 2001, 16 million people saw the film. It acquired the distinction of being the most watched film on Italian TV. Life Is Beautiful earned $48.7 million in Italy thus becoming the highest grossing Italian film. In 2001, Checco Zallone’s film, What a Beautiful Day, beat the record that was set by Life Is Beautiful.
Just like in Italy, Life Is Beautiful did very well at the box office in the United States becoming the highest grossing film. In 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became the highest grossing foreign film in the United States beating the record set by Life Is Beautiful.