Life is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s achingly funny and hauntingly beautiful WWII romantic comedy-tragedy about love, family, and sacrifice, describes itself as a "fable," and so it is. The story unfolds in two acts. In the first, Benigni is Guido, an Italian waiter recklessly and flamboyantly courting a pretty schoolteacher named Dora (Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife), whom he invariably greets with an exuberant "Buon giorno Principessa!" (Good day, Princess!). Benigni is a hapless clown akin to Chaplin’s Little Tramp, and Guido woos his "principessa" the only way he can — with slapstick humor, audacious improvisation, and outrageous sight gags.
Soon, however, we learn Guido’s secret: He is a Jew, and he gets by from day to day relying on the same madcap strategems he uses on Dora — even at one point impersonating an SS officer and improvising a lecture for Italian schoolchildren on the inherent superiority of the Aryan navel.
In the second act, Guido, Dora, and their young son Giosue (Joshua) are deported to a concentration camp, where once again Guido protects his son from the horrors they will face the only way he can — with humor. Contriving to hide the boy from camp officials (who soon put the other children to death), Guido tells Giosue that the concentration camp is actually an elaborate role-playing game in which the "players" are competing for points in the hopes of winning a real battle tank. From then on, Guido will take any risk, court any danger, to maintain his son’s illusion that none of it is real.
In real life, of course, such a deception would not only be wrong, it wouldn’t work for even a day. Is Benigni making light of the Holocaust — suggesting that, with the right attitude, Auschwitz would have been a game? Not at all. Rather, he is creating a "fable" about love and sacrifice. For that matter, Guido’s courtship of Dora, interpreted literally, is as preposterous as his death-camp antics.
But the movie is not about the reality of either courtship or death camps. It is a metaphor about the lengths to which a man will go for those he loves, a meditation on the beauty of life even when tragically restricted or cut short.
Postscript: Pope John Paul II saw a special viewing of Life is Beautiful at the Vatican with Benigni. Although Benigni lives in Rome not far from the Vatican, he had never before seen or met the Pope, and was in California when the Vatican contacted him, so he had to fly halfway around the world for the meeting!
Picking the top 10 movie dads was both easier and harder than picking the top 10 movie moms. Easier, because there were more candidates to choose from — and harder for the same reason!
Finding Nemo in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
(New review for 3-D rerelease) Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo is the best father-son story in all of Hollywood animation, and maybe animation generally. It’s also a stunningly gorgeous film that exploits the potential of computer animation like no film before it and few films after it.
Chronologically, The Lion King stands between the striking triumphs of the early Disney renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin) and the bumpy deterioration of the latter 1990s (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, etc.). One way or another, it’s at the turning point between Disney’s creative renewal and its eventual decline. Fans might locate it near the pinnacle, along with Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t feel the love.
How can I describe the inexplicable power of My Neighbor Totoro, Hayao Miyazaki’s timeless, ageless family film? It is like how childhood memories feel, if you had a happy childhood — wide-eyed and blissful, matter-of-factly magical and entrancingly prosaic, a world with discovery lurking around every corner and an inexhaustible universe in one’s backyard.
The Incredibles is exhilarating entertainment with unexpected depths. It’s a bold, bright, funny and furious superhero cartoon that dares to take sly jabs at the culture of entitlement, from the shallow doctrine of self-esteem that affirms everybody, encouraging mediocrity and penalizing excellence, to the litigation culture that demands recompense for everyone if anything ever happens, to the detriment of the genuinely needy.
Here Crowe overturns another Hollywood convention in an equally strong performance as a boxer who isn’t a morally checkered, socially alienated single man with a history of extracurricular violence and troubling relationship issues (cf. Rocky, Raging Bull, The Boxer), but a wholly decent, self-controlled, devoted family man. He’s not only Cinderella, he’s Prince Charming too.
A tightly wound, middle-aged carpenter named Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) works with young boys at some sort of center. His inner life, his motives and emotions, aren’t revealed to us, and he doesn’t seem preoccupied with them himself. He wears a leather back brace, and has perhaps been injured at some point; and his work itself may be a similar sort of prop against some injury of his past.
L’Chaim! Life itself, joyous and tragic, is the subject of the boisterous, comic, heartbreaking vision of Fiddler on the Roof.
The screenplay, well adapted by Robert Bolt from his own stage play, is fiercely intelligent, deeply affecting, resonant with verbal beauty and grace. Scofield, who for years starred in the stage play before making the film, gives an effortlessly rich and layered performance as Sir Thomas More, saint and martyr, the man whose determined silence spoke more forcefully than words, and who then spoke even more forcefully by breaking it.
The Emperor’s New Groove is really about another new groove — Disney animation’s. By 2000, the old Disney-as-usual wasn’t selling any more, and Disney was ready to begin trying new things.
Monsieur Vincent, director Maurice Cloche’s beautifully crafted, award-winning biopic of St. Vincent de Paul, celebrates the saint’s single-minded devotion to the poor without romanticizing the objects of his devotion and recipients of his charity.
This is a film about the legacy of fatherhood and the inheritance of sonship, about the unbreakable connection and the unbridgeable gap between one generation and the next. It is a celebration of masculinity, but it contemplates how men relate to women as an index of their manhood.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.