Ah, the month of June. You’re back as always, and you promise to deliver us a vast amount of fantastical moments. Yet, as we all know, one of the most important of these events is Father’s Day. A day where we appreciate the men who are responsible for our existence, who work day in and day out so that we will not starve, who discipline us when needed, and even bring us to a ball game or two for our own amusement. Yet, as we all (should) know, this is just the tip of the iceberg as to our appreciation of our fathers. It is for this reason that I have decided to take a look at the greatest father in the cinematic universe, Guido from Life Is Beautiful.
This Italian holocaust based film opens to us in the most startling way one could possibly imagine (had they little knowledge about it); as a largely slapstick, romantic comedy. Seriously, a war film meeting these descriptions is big time whiplash. It is for these characteristics that the film contains that many have turned their nose up at it. They claim it is distasteful and a bad representation of the events surrounding WWII. The main problem with these criticisms is that they have missed the point completely. This film is not supposed to be an accurate representation of the Holocaust, nor is it supposed to be a WWII epic. If you desire films that meet these descriptions, look to such films as Schindler’s List or The Pianist (preferably, with big time Clearplay). No, this film is about love and the protection of a father. And it is how a father used the only weapon he possessed to save his son’s innocence; love and humor.
This film literally gives us these lenses while we observe the surroundings of WWII in Italy. We are introduced to a love sick Guido as he meets his “princess,” and does whatever it takes (no matter how ridiculous) to marry this woman. In the end, he is a man who gets what he wants, and this young couple lives a short lived, yet happy life as they welcome a son into this life. The problem? Guido, and now his son, is of Jewish heritage. This, as you might have guessed, forces them to be sent to a concentration camp/ghetto where they must try to survive each day. It sure sounds bleak, doesn’t it? And believe me, it is one of the saddest, most heart-wrenching films you will view, but it is not bleak. How is this possible? And why are people claiming it to be inappropriate? The answer to that is the very reason I consider Life Is Beautiful to be one of the most phenomenal films of all time.
The films has one purpose and one purpose alone, to show Guido’s desire to make life a beautiful and wonderful place for his boy, no matter what situation they go through. As was said before, Guido is already prone to doing hilarious and outlandish activities because; well…that is who he is. So the film rarely puts us in dreary scenes of realism, rather there is always a comic ray of sunshine amidst the despair. Guido’s plan of action consists of one farfetched idea, to make his son believe they are in some sort of long term game or competition. In order not to be sent home, one has to follow the rules, and stay hidden. Guido eagerly displays 1 Corinthians 14:20 which instructs us to be as innocent as children, but wise and mature in our understanding. Guido does not for one minute let these naïve games go to his head. He is fully aware of the constant dangers they are enduring. This is seen in the haunting scene where Guido is carrying his tired and heavy laden son through the camp when he comes upon a heap of dead bodies. It is a disturbing scene (probably the one gruesome images seen in the entire film), but above all else, we see the fear he has, that he must endure and hide alone without his son’s knowledge. And so, Guido goes along with his previously laid plans. He will not let his son know the possible consequences of their situation. Rather, he will play games, make jokes, he will smile when no one else will. All of this is done to protect his son from the frightening scenario, to make sure his son never has to face unneeded sleepless nights that he has faced.
It is a beautiful film, maybe not realistic, but beautiful nonetheless. It is presented to us with a truly remarkable performance from Roberto Benigni, as a comedian who must face reality. Also, Nicoletta Braschi (Benigni’s real life wife) does a top notch job as the mother and wife of the situation. One of the few other realistic and gut-wrenching scene’s in the film is when she comes home to see her son and husband have been taken from the premises, and she goes to face her own probable doom by practically forcing herself on the train which carries them. It is a truly heartbreaking scene that is displayed brilliantly by Braschi. The acting combined with beautiful cinematography, art display, and soundtrack all makes for a top notch piece of art.
But if we just look at it as art and nothing more, we have missed the point. Like I have said before, we are given the lighthearted and fun lenses of Guido’s viewpoint. We see as he will do whatever it takes to make sure his son feels safe and loved. How wonderful is that? It seems that he understands the lessons of Matt. 18:2-3, 10, and Mark 9:42 which makes known to us the importance of a child’s faith and innocence. I can think of multiple times in my life where I found out my parents were going through difficult times, yet I had no knowledge of it. I was able to grow up in ease, security, and fun no matter how hard life got. I thank my father, and all fathers who put on a smile and gave their children a childhood full of memories when it could have easily been full of despair if the father so chose. It is for this reason Life Is Beautiful is one of my all-time favorites. It is a funny, sensitive, and even a tragic film of a father who sacrifices his entire being for the sake of his child. When it could have been just as easy to let the situation get the best of him by letting his son suffer, he fought to give his son a truly beautiful life.
P.S. my sister got me hooked on NEEDTOBREATHEand Gavin DeGraw’s “Brother.” Go check it out, and get hooked too!