Life Is Beautiful ★★½

I've changed my perspective on this film over the years.

When I saw it in 1997 it was during a time when the rush of Oscar fever propelled Roberto Benigni, star and director, to the award for Best Actor. This seems a ridiculous decision now, with hindsight, but perhaps we were all caught up in this comic extravaganza.

The premise is a simple one - Guido, a Jewish-Italian, is interned with his young son in a concentration camp, and to shield his son from the horrors, he turns their predicament into a game, a tragicomedy of amusement.

Then, I thought this was 'a good thing' and that the comic take on the situation was inventive. I was well aware of the horrors of these camps, so I was not taking this view lightly. I rated this as 'a good film' and back in 1997, would probably have given it four stars.

Last year I watched it again, and I will repeat what I wrote in the comments of the review by mad versaycer:

"I've seen this film twice. When it was first released it came across as powerful because of the comedic approach to the appalling situation Guidi and his son find themselves in. You could watch it from the little boy's point of view and see how his father was simply trying to protect him right up to that final game of hide and seek.

Last year I saw it again. This time I found the film shallow and rather offensive because the comedy felt contrived and misplaced. I no longer cared about Guido's motives and I started to think about documentaries I had seen about the Nazi atrocities. There might be a place for a thoughtful treatment of how victims of the Holocaust tried to use escapism to survive - a play called Scaramouche Jones touched on the image of the clown to distract children on their way to the gas chambers - but Life is Beautiful feels these days more like the Jerry Lewis film The Day The Clown Cried, a misfire that uses farce and mugging physical comedy in an inappropriate way."

I now find this film distasteful. I did not enjoy watching it again, and I feel that the praise for Benigni was a huge mistake. It even won the Oscar for 'Best Foreign Language Film'.

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