Life Is Beautiful

By Michael Elliott for The Christian Critic

Life is beautiful. And for good reason... God, in His perfection, created it. And yet, in the movie Life Is Beautiful, that statement is both true and unmistakably ironic.

Italian comedy star Roberto Benigni (Son of the Pink Panther) has directed, co-written, and starred in this magnificent, impossibly poignant film about the love of a husband and a father and the incredible lengths he will go to protect his family.

Set in Italy in 1939, Life Is Beautiful opens by introducing us to the ebullient life force of Guido Orefice (Mr. Benigni), a man of Jewish origin who works for his uncle as a waiter, although he holds onto the dream of owning his own bookstore. He meets, woos, and wins the lovely Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Johnny Stecchino) through a series of outrageous and seemingly spontaneous events.

The film spends much time building the relationship of Guido and Dora, showing us how inventive and quick-thinking he can be as he brazenly charms his way into her heart. Then the film quickly jumps five years ahead. It is wartime. Guido and Dora are married and have a son, Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Life indeed is beautiful until Nazi Germany begins rounding up all the Jews to be shipped to concentration camps. Guido and Giosue are summoned and herded onto the next train for the camps. Dora voluntarily follows.

Throughout the train ride and upon arrival at the dismal camp, Guido aims to protect his young son from the horrors which surround them. He invents an elaborate game, requiring silence and complete cooperation in order to gain the points necessary to win. As the situation grows more and more serious, Guido becomes more and more inventive, using that quick mind of his to shield his son from harm and get word to his wife that they are still alive.

Mr. Benigni is unforgettable as a comical man in an non-comedic setting. When a German guard asks one of the Italians to translate for him as he gives the other prisoners the rules of the camps and the severe penalties that come with disobedience, Guido leaps at the opportunity. He doesn't speak German, but instead makes it appear to his young child that the guard is explaining the rules of his ficticious game. It was an extremely dangerous thing to do, but at the same time, it was extremely funny.

Ms. Brashi brings Dora from the coquettish young girl Guido courts to the resolute woman who would rather be sent to her death in the camps than see her family separated.

Young Mr. Cantarini is precious as the child Giosue for whom the war is one big playground. And Horst Buchholz (Aces: Iron Eagle III) does a fine job as a puzzle solving German doctor who remembers Guido as his favorite waiter.

Mr. Benigni was somehow miraculously able to find that fine balance between comedy and tragedy, never letting the film sway too far to either side. Neither lampooning nor sinking into melodrama, the film holds true to its vision of a loving father doing anything that was required of him for those under his care.

It is exactly what God calls husbands and fathers to do. To take the responsibility for their families:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. Ephesians 5:25 [KJV]
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. John 3:35 [KJV]

What better example of a father's love for his son and a son's loving obedience to his father than the relationship God has arranged for us to have with him?

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:1-2 [KJV]

Life is beautiful. The world may be ugly at times, but the love that we hold in our hearts can overcome the world. Thank you Mr. Benigni, for giving us a warm and tender example of such a vitally important spiritual truth.

Copyright The Christian Critic. Used by permission.