Esteban Gonzalez’s review published on Letterboxd:
“This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me.”
The film that introduced the world to the charming Italian actor, Roberto Benigni (perhaps not because they saw his actual movie, but for the way he accepted his Oscar for his performance in this film as he leaped through the seats of the actors that were attending the ceremony). This is my favorite foreign film because it manages to balance a wonderful story that begins as a romantic comedy and ends up being about the tragic events that took place during the holocaust. How could Benigni possibly pull something like this off? He’s telling a hopeful light hearted story in the midst of a horrific historical event. Using the premise of the love a father has for his child, he manages to turn the terrible ordeal into a childish game in order to protect the innocence of his son. We’ve never seen a holocaust film quite like this, but it works because of the amazing performance from Benigni and the passion he put into this film. The chemistry between him and his wife, Nicoletta Braschi, and the performance from Giorgio Cantarini playing the cute son end up completely elevating the film and turning a well known horrific story into one of love and hope.
There are several scenes that stood out for me in this film. At the beginning one can find several similarities with Chaplin’s work in The Great Dictator, especially in the scene where Benigni impersonates a fascist professor explaining to the students why they are the superior race. It is a hilarious scene where Benigni proves his comedic physical talent. The love story is so well developed that it could’ve worked on its own as a simple romantic comedy, but the film takes a surprising turn during the second half where the main focus becomes the relationship between a father and the sacrifice he makes to protect the innocence of his son. It is a beautiful love letter about hope and in my opinion it handles the material with a lot of sensibility. Another brilliant scene where we see how far the father is willing to go to shield his son is when he offers to translate for a German officer the rules of the concentration camp and he completely makes everything up so his son would believe it is only a competition. It is a hilarious movie that at the same time is extremely touching due to the dark events surrounding the film. Benigni took a huge risk with this story, but he managed to find the perfect balance and turned the film into a masterpiece. The music from Nicola Piovani is one of the best scores I’ve heard in a film and it definitely sets the tone of the movie.