Life is beautiful is an Italian tragic comedy. It is, without any doubt, a mockery of one of history’s biggest tragedies. Indeed, the movie has received criticisms and controversy for the holocaust is not a great setting for a comedy yet it is truly remarkable. Roberto Benigni has found some laughs and also filled the eyes of the viewers with tears. Guido Orefice, played by Roberto Benigni, is a young Jew who comes to Arezzo, in Tuscany, to work in a city where his uncle runs a restaurant. He falls in love with a girl named Dora, played by Nicoletta Braschi. Guido deliberately sets up co-incidents to show his interest in her. Dora is engaged to a local government official with whom Guido has difference of opinion. Guido is humorous and smart and Dora sees his affection and gets away with him on her engagement party on a horse, leaving her fiancé and mother humiliated. They are married and have a son, Giosue Orefice. When world war 2 breaks out, Guido, his uncle and his son are captivated on Giosue’s birthday. When Dora comes back home and realises that her husband and her son are seized by the Nazis she confronts a guard who tells her there is no mistake to which Dora decides to volunteer to get on the train in order to remain close to her family during this difficult time. They and many other Jews were being taken to a concentration camp. Giosue is on edge and does not like the way they were being treated. Guido hides the real situation from him.
Guido tells Giosue that the whole camp situation is a game in which he must perform the tasks given to him to earn points and whoever gets a thousand points wins. The winner gets a real tank as a prize. when the guard comes to tell the rules of the camp, Guido seizes this as an opportunity to fool Giosue in believing that the guard is explaining the rules of the game. He tells him that if he cries, requests to go back to his mother or demands for a snack he will lose points and if he remains quiet and hides from the guard, he will earn extra points. Sometimes, Giosue is fidgety but Guido convinces him to play along. In concentration camp, men and women are kept separate and are not allowed to meet each other but Guido informs her about him and Giosue being safe over a loudspeaker. His uncle is executed in a gas chamber shortly after their arrival as the matured and children were ordered to enter the gas chamber by telling them they were showers. Giosue escaped because he did not like taking baths. In the end, when the camp is about to shut down Guido hides Giosue in a box and instructs him not to come out until everyone has left and there is silence and that this would be his last task. He goes away to find Dora and stop her from getting onto the trucks. But instead he is caught and is shot by the officer and left dead in the alley. While he is walking to his death, he walks past Giosue and winks at him for the last time still playing his character.
The following morning, Giosue rises up out of the box, just as a US Army unit drove by a Sherman tank shows up and the camp is freed. Giosue is thrilled about dominating the match (uninformed that his dad is dead), believing that he won the tank, and an American fighter permits Giosue to ride on the tank. Giosue soon spots Dora in the parade leaving the camp and reunites with his mom. While the youthful Giosue enthusiastically informs his mom concerning how he had won a tank, similarly as his dad had guaranteed, the grown-up Giosue in a caught monologue, thinking back on the penances his dad made for him and his story. The first half of the movie is pure comedy but the second half of the movie burns the viewers eyes with tears.
The movie has a few instances which relates it with Hannah Arendt’s holocaust literature, Men in Dark Times. She talks about how there was a tendency to act as the period between 1933-1945 never existed. These negative aspects were removed from the textbooks and people were not allowed to learn about them. In the movie, Guido invents a lecture on racial superiority in school when he is taken as an inspector. He talks about his ears being superior and displays his belly button to the children while making a lecture by which he attempts to establish the superiority of the Italians. We also see inner emigration being displayed by Guido himself when Giosue asks him about why certain shops have Jews and dogs not allowed written outside their shops. Also, the fact that Guido’s identity that he is a Jew is revealed much later in the film points to the rejection of their identities that does not truly make them superior to the world as suggested by Arendt in her essay.
I believe the movie ‘Life is Beautiful’ is more about the human spirit and not as much about the holocaust as it softens it and makes humour possible. But it does have some instances which supports Hannah Arendt’s arguments about the holocaust.