#Tragicomedy – Life is Beautiful (1997) – Roberto Benigni

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
– Charlie Chaplin
(Note to all readers: The following is not a film review to be frank. Just some thoughts this film triggered. The film is a must watch without knowing anything about it. If you have not watched it yet, go and watch it right now)
Have you heard of The Merchant of Venice? It is one of the most perfect examples of tragicomedy. You cannot really determine if it is a tragedy or a comedy, even though the words perfectly contrast each other. At some points you feel buoyant and in another blink you are laid down by stockpiles of misfortunes. The overall mood, is neither bright nor gloomy. It has something from both these worlds.
Life is Beautiful is a story of a loving father and a caring mother, and a birthday gift for their son.
Life is Beautiful is a fable of the family of an Italian Jewish book shop owner, captured by the Nazis.
For me both these one liners make complete sense. Because the film, as a whole cannot be termed as one story. The life of this family is the story of the film and there are two drastically opposite episodes in this story.
Narrative Structure:
I feel there are six acts to this film. Or you may rather say, there are two halves of three acts each.
Act I: Guido’s (Roberto Benigni’s) introduction till the point he bumps into Dora (Nicoletta Braschi)
Act II: Guido’s quest to express his love to Dora
Act III: Dora runs away and marries Guido
Act I: Guido’s family and the new life as a book shop owner till they are captured
Act II: Life in the Nazi concentration camp
Act III: Chaos in the camp as the Allied Forces (Americans) approach
I belong to a constitution of film lovers that believes in the importance of the title of the film. I like titles that are ambiguous, yet make sense on watching the film. There is some surface area to them, as well as some volume. They mean something at first, but when you go pause your life and think a little more about it; they mean something even deeper.
The film ends with a voice over of Joshua (Guido’s Son) which goes like this:
“This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me.”
A whole generation of fathers, sacrificed their lives so that their sons can live in a beautiful world believing that life is beautiful. Also, the family is taken captive on the day of Joshua’s birthday. So what follows, he considers as his birthday present.
Life is Beautiful, indeed it is! But one must cloak all the problems and believe that everything is going to be alright. That ultimately if he doesn’t give in; his faith, his patience will be rewarded. That is how one can make his life beautiful. By having faith in it.
It is astounding how the film manages to switch so quickly from an exaggerated (almost slapstick) comedy to a tragedy. And it does it with such an ease. When dealing with a dramatic subject, not all from the audience can have empathy for your characters. Most of the people go to the movies to escape from their troubled lives. So it is important to have a comic relief to manage the grip on the audience when the subject is burdensome. Over here, the film deals with – Nazi concentration camps – a very emotional subject for many if not all. And yet, even after the switch; the film gives you some moments to smile. Another director could’ve shifted to a completely cheerless treatment in the second half. But Benigni keeps rewarding your faith throughout.
Charlie Chaplin once confessed that one cannot make a comedy out of the Nazi era, like the one he made The Great Dictator. Benigni successfully falsified his claim by making this masterpiece. I am not the one who usually ends up weeping after an emotionally intriguing movie. However, I felt a lump in my throat after watching Life is Beautiful.
Life is Beautiful was shown at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to win the Grand Prix. At the 71st Academy Awards, the film won awards for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, and Best Foreign Language Film, with Benigni winning Best Actor for his role. The film also received Academy Award nominations for Directing, Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture
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