Monday, March 10, 2008

Life is Beautiful

Last night saw Shazzerooneypoos, Dong, Mrs The Millbrooker and me settling down for a viewing of La Vita è Bella: Roberto Benigni's 1999 comedy about Italian fascism and the deportation of the Jews. When it was released there was much debate about the suitability of the subject matter as comedic material. Having now seen it for myself, I can only state that I believe it to be a work of sublime genius.

All of the film club were first timers for this film and, to paraphrase Dong, it slipped under our defences.
Benigni directed, co-wrote and stars in this two hour exploration of the human spirit, familial love and base survival. The film opens in light hearted vein, there's plenty of top notch slapstick and some very funny set pieces and prat-falls. The dialogue is fast and furious, keeping us sub-title readers well and truly on our toes. In essence, the film's first hour is a farcical romantic comedy. There were several occasions when all four of us were laughing aloud at Benigni's antics; even though much of the humour even at the early stages carries a dark and unpleasant undercurrent.

A terrific piece of dialogue as Guido Orefice (Benigni) explains a sign that his small son has seen in a shop window:

Giosue (Guido's son): "No Jews or Dogs Allowed." Why do all the shops say, "No Jews Allowed"?

Guido (Benigni): Oh, that. "Not Allowed" signs are the latest trend! The other day, I was in a shop with my friend the kangaroo, but their sign said, "No Kangaroos Allowed," and I said to my friend, "Well, what can I do? They don't allow kangaroos."

Giosue: "Why doesn't our shop have a "Not Allowed" sign?

Guido: Well, tomorrow, we'll put one up. We won't let in anything we don't like. What don't you like?

Giosue: Spiders.

Guido: Good. I don't like Visigoths. Tomorrow, we'll get sign: "No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed."

The film becomes a much darker and more sinister beast almost unexpectedly. Just like the sudden knock on the door, Guido and Giosue are taken and transported to a concentration camp with little or no warning. Guido has to use the same comedic talents that he used to woo his wife in the early part of the film to keep his son alive in the dreadful conditions of forced labour and the final solution. The same talents are on show, the same prat-falls keep happening, but it's very very hard to laugh now.

At the film's end all of us had at least a couple of tears in our eyes; it is an extremely affecting story and it's very well told on a human scale.

Please watch this film, please invite friends around to watch it with you. It's vital that we never forget. It's vital that we say "never again". It's wonderful to be able to laugh in the face of evil. Life is indeed Beautiful.

1 comment:

Frankenkeith said...

Hi Joshua,
Home late on Sunday and battening down for the storm, so sorry I obviously missed a Gem at the Film Club.
Interested in your experience with BBC iPlayer. I tried it once and deleted it because it uses Peer to Peer and can gobble up your bandwidth. However I found you can inhibit that and have just watched last nights "10 days to War" "A Private Matter" and recommend 10 minutes of your time. I agree about Top Gear, even though I have met them. Surprised you liked Ashes to Ashes, I only managed 5 minutes, may try again? You can tell the weather has been bad and I have spent too much time indoors!
Congrats to Lizzie