Life Is Beautiful ★★★★

Like the most despicable of horrors, the purest of joys also are sometimes best left unnamed. It isn’t comedy, but explanation, that diminishes. Both aspects are reflected to their extremes in Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.”

Where the movie’s fate in personal opinion lives and dies... is entirely dependent on each individual’s own view of Benigni. And that - is the film’s most courageous aspect, and also its fatal flaw. 

To apply standards of logic and decency to Benigni’s film does not cast its intention in too polite of a lens. Mixing Marx Brothers-style hijinks with the devastation of concentration camps cannot go without examination - or possibly, condemnation. This can be particularly prickly when remarked that Benigni - while playing a Jewish man - is not himself, a Jew. 

But slapstick appeal is not Benigni’s endgame. It’s one of several tools he uses in the aim of concocting something else - sublime ecstasy. 

While the sensation is one generally only achieved through miraculous accident, Benigni places the search for it in an environment that demands its creation for the purpose of sustaining life. 

However, this also means that Benigni, mere mortal that he is, is essentially forcing the comedic divine. And he certain does exert an often obnoxious level of force. 

It comes in unending babble - some funny, some decidedly not - that Benigni spouts ceaselessly through the film. It’s his insistence to only rarely just let moments play out without exerted emotional interjection. It’s a tactic that heavy handedly tells the audience THIS IS WHAT TO FEEL. RIGHT NOW. WHEN THAT CHANGES... I WILL LET YOU KNOW WHAT TO FEEL NEXT. CAPICHE?  

It’s a strategy that makes “Life” an emotive viewing experience, and worthy of popular appeal. But perhaps excludes it from a level of grace necessary to reach the canon of great cinema.


Part of Warm Fuzzies Winter

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