Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragi-comedy, War Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 23, 1998 (USA)  |   Run Time - 116 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Rebecca Flint Marx

Life is Beautiful caused more than a little controversy when it was released: any attempt to make comedy out of the Holocaust is going to inspire strong reactions from critics and audience members. Love it or loathe it, Life is Beautiful inarguably made an international star out of Italian comedian Roberto Benigni, who wrote, directed, and starred in it. One of his country's most celebrated comedians, Benigni was previously known for his work in numerous Italian comedies, as well as Johnny Stecchino and Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law and Night on Earth. Life is Beautiful's Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by Benigni's Best Actor Oscar and acceptance speech (in exuberant, skillfully broken English), made Benigni possibly Italy's most famous export since the Fiat. Although some viewers found the film's second half, set almost entirely in a concentration camp, to be well-meaning but misguided, the film's first half is indisputably enjoyable. Revolving around the courtship of an aristocratic lady nicknamed the Principessa by Benigni's Guido, it makes a refreshing, elegantly hilarious love story. Somewhat ironically, the film's wittiest and most accurate commentary on fascism and religious oppression is contained here, rather than in the concentration camp setting. Benigni's comedy here becomes a tool for side-splitting yet razor-sharp criticism, and this first section powerfully establishes the reality of everyday life disrupted by the war.