Sunday, July 09, 2006

Life is Beautiful

Seems every blogger worth their webspace is doing movie reviews these days. With the release of Da Vinci Code some time ago, then Krrish, and finally Superman Returns, I’m sure they have a lot to write about. I hardly ever watch movies, and thanks to the state government of Andhra Pradesh, the first of those is banned here. Superman is running houseful up to one week from now, and I don’t dare watch Krrish after reading Greatbong’s review. (It’s true that even Superman was proscribed by Greatbong and Careless Chronicles, but I think I won’t be able to resist watching it 3D at the IMAX). So I sat at home and watched Life Is Beautiful. I’ve never done movie reviews before (except one for my ISC English exam), and I do not want to start with a world famous classic which is a decade old. However, I couldn’t help writing about this movie as that’s the only topic that is present in my head right now.

I have been terribly tied down with all sorts of work, both in office and at home to write up a post for a week. Nothing seemed to go my way for quite some time, right from Argentina losing to our landlord telling us to leave. I hear the real workload at office will start tomorrow. I really can’t imagine what it’ll be like, since I was already up to my neck in work. I have a test to take on Wednesday and had to prepare for that. To add to my frustration, the FIFA World Cup final match is being played right now, and I don’t have a TV. So while my flatmate enjoys the match and spends the night out at his friend’s house, I must read off minute-by-minute commentary from

So when I decided to see this movie, it was done more with an intention of getting some entertainment as substitute for the football match, and less for appreciating a masterpiece. Many people had been telling me this movie was good, so I chose this as a “time-pass”, as they call it. I even thought that I’ll watch half of it tonight, and the other half later. I thought I’d rather write a usual grumbling blog post about the problems of life. Only problem is, it turned out to be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t stop that movie half way, and life suddenly started looking rather beautiful after watching it.

This 1997 Italian movie by Roberto Benigni is based in an Italian town of the late 1930s. Benigni himself plays the protagonist who is a carefree Jewish bookkeeper called Guido. In the first half of the movie, he woos and marries a beautiful schoolteacher Dora (played by Benigni’s real life wife Nicoletta Braschi) using his comical pranks, and they soon have a son. The story moves ahead to the last days of World War II when the German forces occupy Italy and send Guido and his son to a Nazi concentration camp. Dora decides to accompany them there voluntarily.

The second half of the story shows how Guido uses those silly pranks and comical imagination to keep his child happy inside the concentration camp, by convincing him that all this was an elaborate game, and the winner would win a real tank. He also manages to communicate with his wife who was in a different part of the camp. The movie ends with the Allied forces coming to the rescue.

The first half of the movie is bright and cheerful; it leaves no doubt in the viewers’ mind that it’s a comedy. The second half, on the other hand, is dark and grim. However, there are light, almost comical moments interwoven with the death and misery all around. And this is precisely what makes the movie beautiful. It shows death, but it is about life. It shows hatred, but it is about love. It is based in grim reality, but it celebrates the victory of imagination. It is a fairy tale set in the backdrop of the war.

Roberto Benigni says the title comes from a quote by Leon Trotsky. While in exile in Mexico, he saw his wife in the garden and wrote that, in spite of everything, "life is beautiful", although he knew that he was about to be killed by Stalin's assassins. I felt there couldn’t be a better title for this movie, which handles a subject such as the holocaust in such a beautiful way. True, sometimes the movie is a bit unrealistic, but that’s excusable. Also, some people say that Benigni trivialized the horrors of the Holocaust too much. I disagree. After all, one of the greatest satires on Hitler ever made, The Great Dictator, was disguised as a bigger comedy with which Life is Beautiful has a lot of similarities.

This movie made me think a lot. It made me feel that life is not what happens to us, but how we react to it. We must learn to enjoy every moment of life. It is up to us to make it beautiful. Suddenly the problems of life don’t look so menacing anymore… people have faced worse situations and survived. All of us can be happy if we want, and that’s what I want right now.

PS: Italy defeated France a little while ago. I wanted France to win, although I didn't really care once Argentina was out. In any case, I can't be too unhappy about Italy winning the World Cup while I'm praising an Italian movie...


  1. You did not watch the finals!! What a match it was! I like this movie too, but sometimes its just difficult to do the things that you know you need to do.

  2. Roberto Benigni tries *too* hard. That's the problem I had with that film.

    If you can, try and catch this 1968 Czech film called "Shop on Main Street" (also about the Nazi invasion.) It blends comedy and tragedy in very simple, unmanipulative ways.

  3. @shreemoyee: Aaah! Don't rub it in now... I'm happy to believe what my friend told me: it was a boring match.
    About the movie...yes it's difficult. But I'm kind of 'pumped up' (pardon me for borrowing your language) to try and be happy whatever comes.

    @km: Sometimes one has to exaggarate things a little to emphasize a point. Here that point was the contrast between his life before and after going to the camp. That is why I felt it was excusable. What do you feel about The Great Dictator then? Did Chaplin try *too* hard there?
    Thanks a lot for suggesting that movie... I'll surely try to watch it whenever I get a chance.

  4. Good one...I have that movie with me since last 2 years but haven't watched yet. Now its a must watch for me. :-)

  5. Debmalya Mukherjee11:14 AM, July 11, 2006

    as far as world cup final is point watching it once argentina and portugal were knocked out....but one just can't find an alibi not to watch this movie over and over again.i just cant express the inexplicable joy i had watching this movie after surviving 6 hours of iit mains...i agree with you...suddenly life turns out to be BEAUTIFUL.

  6. Very nice review. You are right about right reactions to situations though some situations can be overwhelming. Situations like the bomb blasts in Bombay cannot be explained to any child and if such tendencies continue without check, I am afraid Life will not only not look beautiful but it could actually sorry forever. Sorry for sound pessimistic but such incidents really make you wonder when all this madness shall end.

  7. @abhijit: Watch it as soon as possible. I'd like to know your opinion.

    @debmalya mukherjee: Going by what I heard about the final match, it seems I had spent my time in a much better way by watching this movie.

    @hiren: Ah... the Mumbai blasts! I felt like writing a blog post about them, but I couldn't find words strong enough to condemn such a despicable act of cowardice. Although it is difficult to explain those blasts to a child, still, the Nazi oppression of Jews was a far more horrible event. What I meant by "Life is Beautiful" is, after the blasts, we could either sit and cry away the rest of our days, or move on with life. Life is what you make it. The blasts happened. It was unfortunate, but it's the truth. What we do NOW will decide our lives...