Making the Grades
Imagine what you might have said to your five-year-old child if you were both being sent to a German concentration camp. Chances are your answer won't be the same as Guido Orefice's (Roberto Benigni), because nobody else could see the world quite the way Guido does.
In 1939 Italy, Guido, a natural clown, uses humor to cope with life's problems. In many hilarious acts of coincidence, Guido convinces Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's real-life wife) to marry him. Time passes, and the happy couple has a five-year-old son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini) and life is beautiful.
But we've suspected Guido is Jewish, as the Nazis have been creating trouble for his uncle. Within minutes, the film takes us from beautiful to horrible when the entire family is loaded into a boxcar and taken to a concentration camp.
In an attempt to protect his young son from the truth, Guido tells him they are playing an elaborate game and are very lucky to have been chosen. He tells Giosue if they do what they are told, they can be the first to reach 1,000 points and they will win the prize... a real tank. His convincing words and ability to distill humor out of tragedy allow Guido and Giosue to endure the terror of the camp.
Benigni, who also wrote and directed this masterpiece, holds the ability to give us just enough information to allow our imaginations to run wild. We never see violence, short of some pushing and intimidation by Nazi soldiers with guns. One death from gunshots is heard, but the action is off-screen. Yet, in many ways this film moved me more than others that have explored this subject more explicitly. However, parents should still heed the PG-13 rating before viewing this film with their teens.
Benigni took risks with this film, and he has been criticized for using humor and artistic license in his holocaust depiction. But historical accuracy isn't the point. Instead Benigni helps us recognize it's love and our own attitudes that determine whether our life is beautiful.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Life Is Beautiful.
This film opens many obvious conversations regarding the Jewish Holocaust. Although the characters here are fictitious, many Internet sites offer accurate historical information. You may want to start your search with the American Holocaust Museum at http://www.ushmm.org/
Ask your children to identify problems they face. Could a change in attitude help them to overcome these concerns? Can humor help us cope with stressful situations?