La vita e bella (1997)
Roberto Benigni's La vita e bella is one of those unparalleled, audacious films that has got instant classic written all over it. It is a movie which captures most aspects of life and weaves them delightfully, dauntingly and vividly into its impressive range of themes and historical depth. Benigni has based his accounts of WWII on his own father's stay in Bergen-Belzen during the Nazi regime, and he has the ability to make it personal and intimate. This is make-or-break-essential to the effect of this movie, because it is a rather bold endeavour Benigni sets off trying to mix his sinister historical themes with his wonderfully high-spirited comedic introduction. The fact that he not only pulls it off but creates an atmosphere that is close to singular in film history verifies the significance of La vita e bella.
The brilliant acting, the wonderful sense of 'Chaplinish' humour in the script and the sparkling romance between Benigni and real-life wife Nicoletta Braschi act as mere bonuses to the main storyline in the story – the beautiful deception by a father of his son. It is a risky idea, but Benigni's solves any potential problems before he sets off by declaring that his story is the son's rendition of the events. And this is what makes the somewhat stylized setting of the concentration camp so effective; knowing that it is basically seen through the eyes of beautiful little Giosue. Eyes that, despite all the cruelty and malice that has gone on before them, remain innocent and optimistic due to the fantastic protection from his father Guido. Few films can flaunt an idea more imaginative than this, and if they did, none of the would pull it off like Roberto Benigni does here.