Martyn Perry’s review published on Letterboxd:
During the "I'll watch a classic, you watch a classic" challenge I recently undertook with my girlfriend, she suggested Life is Beautiful, a movie which has escaped me until now, and a complete counter point to the earlier movie, Star Wars.
This has everything. The film is anchored on Roberto Benigni's central performance and considering he was directing himself, the man has achieved wonderful things here. The first hour of the movie is a charming over the top romance which has a Peter Sellers/Charlie Chaplin feel to proceedings and plays like an out and out lighthearted comedy. It certainly captivates and entertains in equal measure and does a really great job of establishing both of these characters before the second "act" of the movie hits.
You see, the sucker punch here is that it all takes place during World War II, and Benigni's character is Jewish. So when the relationship is in the bag and the lady is won over, we skip forwards in time to when the couple have a young son, and they're both carted off in a train to a concentration camp.
At this point, the film has received some criticism in the manner in which the the setting is used to tell the story. Should a concentration camp be a setting for comedic elements? Much like the character he plays, Benigni's heart is in completely the right place, and, as a result, the film completely works for me.
Not wishing to scare his young child, Benigni instigates a game to protect his son from the truth. In an early scene in the concentration camp, Benigni pretends to know German and translates into Italian the "rules" of the camp. And it's this scene which sets up the remainder of the story and raises plenty of laughs. Don't complain if you're hungry, get some points. Don't let the soldiers see you, get some points. But can the father protect his son from the horrible truth? Can the son win the game? It's a unique premise and used fantastically to take the viewer through all emotions.
Recommended?: the performances are all fantastic, the story is absolutely joyful, sorrowful, elevating and depressing and it's an absolute must watch movie. A fantastic film which is brought to life by a real triple talent in writing, direction and acting.