Silent J’s review published on Letterboxd:
In the comedy world, there's a very small list of topics that are usually considered off-limits because making light of certain serious subjects could risk coming off as tasteless. You'd think that the Holocaust would be pretty high on that list, right?
Surprisingly, The Holocaust can make for some pretty hilarious subject matter.
At least in the context that Robert Benigni uses it. As a film split in two parts--one capturing the slapstick wonder that's reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and the other profiling the traumatic days of The Holocaust--the film stars Benigni as a father whose family gets taken to a concentration camp. In an effort to protect his young boy from the horrifying truth, he orchestrates a game of sorts to keep the boy occupied and entertained.
The first half is filled with dozens of laughs due entirely to the high energy of Benigni's character. He's instantly likable the moment you see him and brings dozens of laughs to the film. As both actor and director, he manages to reveal to us some heartbreak and surprisingly tense moments in the second half. You commend his character for trying to keep up the game with his son--as impossible of a feat it sounds from the get-go--and how he somehow manages to bring a smile to his son's face as well as force a smile onto his own despite being clearly tired and exhausted--both mentally and physically--from the trauma's that the camp has strained on him. You even get a small handful of hysterical moments during the Holocaust portion of the film in between all those heart string pulling moments. The jokes never feel forced or tasteless during that part of the film. In fact, between the nail biting suspense and damn near tear inducing heavy drama, it's refreshing to get a couple laughs in between. It's pretty genius on Benigni's part how he can balance the two out so well without one overriding the other. I've also got to give praise to a rather understated performance by Nicoletta Braschi as Benigni's "princess". For the comedy half, she turns in her own share of laughs, but absolutely shines during the Holocaust bits as her face alone captures the horrors and trauma that the camp can enforce on anyone.
At the end of the day, I can understand why one may be put off at the thought of comedy being placed at the core of an ugly era in history, but don't let that put you off from seeing this powerful work of genius.
It's more than just a Holocaust dramady. It's a movie that reminds us why comedy is important...why it's necessary to laugh in times of dread...why life is beautiful.