Tarlac Dike

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Category: English Composition

Date Submitted: 03/10/2011 02:58 AM

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Life Is Beautiful starts as an idyllic Italian comedy set in Mussolini's Italy, but from the opening sequence of the film, in which Guido and Ferruccio are mistaken for royal visitors and given the fascist salute, we are aware that this is a comedy firmly rooted in history. Nothing, however, prepares us for the shock that begins the second half of the film when Guido and his young son Giosué are escorted to a train destined for the death camps.

Benigni's magnificent film attempts the impossible: to make a comedy out of the Holocaust, to find an affirmation of society in the death of all social relations. This is not a work of realism. The central story - Guido hides his son Giosué in the camp as he persuades him that this is all a game - has no historical plausibility. But the film is not interested in this kind of realism. The marriage between Jewish Guido and gentile Dora is equally unlikely. Indeed the set, costumes and lighting in the second half of the film are all designed to produce a level of abstraction which does nothing to detract from the horror and brutality of the camps. However, this heightend mise en scène makes it seem otherworldly.

One could criticise the film for abandoning the terrain of the social, or rather for reducing it to the basic unit of the family. But the film's strength is its settled faith that the affective bonds of the family can overcome the worst that society can offer. If this is a fantasy, it is probably a compensation we need when facing the reality of history. It is not too fanciful to read in this fantasy of a father's protectiveness the real guilt of a generation of European children who grew up knowing they had been unable to save their own fathers.

Life is Beautiful is often described as a fable because in actuality, the mysterious providential strokes of fate which Guido enjoys tend to fall on the wrong side of possible. It is also incredibly light hearted (in...