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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Life Is Beautiful': A Charming and Bittersweet Tale of Devotion, Adversity and Inspired Ingenuity

Movie poster for Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella) (1997)

Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella) (1997) is an uncommonly charming and deeply poignant Italian film starring Roberto Benigni as Guido Orefice, a young Jewish man in Tuscany circa 1939. Endowed with an effusive sense of humor, the ever-playful Guido becomes enamored with a young woman named Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a local teacher he is soon intent upon stealing from her government official fiancé Rodolfo (Amerigo Fontani).

As the storyline progresses, Guido stages a series of comical scenarios to catch Dora's eye, before ultimately stealing her outright from her own engagement party. Five years later we find the two married with a young son named Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini) while happily running a bookstore together. With the onset of World War II, however, the family is apprehended by occupying Nazis and sent by train to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In the light of such dismay, Guido is impelled to fabricate a game out of the experience for young Giosuè—rewarding his son with points for his good deeds as well as his ability to remain stoic in moments of abject horror.

Co-written/directed by Benigni and inspired by the book "In the End, I Beat Hitler" by Rubino Romeo Salmonì—along with the experiences of Benigni's father in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp—Life Is Beautiful is a bittersweet tale of human determination. Benigni is an eye-opening delight as the rambunctious Guido—his infectious playfulness lending a striking balance to the bleak reality of their imprisonment. Equal parts uplifting, amusing and downright heartbreaking, it's a unique viewing experience destined to weigh heavily upon your heart.


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