Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Directed by Roberto Benigni

A touching story of an Italian book seller of Jewish ancestry who lives in his own little fairy tale. His creative and happy life would come to an abrupt halt when his entire family is deported to a concentration camp during World War II. While locked up he tries to convince his son that the whole thing is just a game.

If this film was an act of deliberate provocation in order to get a reaction, it would paradoxically be less insufferable — since at least Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917), we mostly know how to deal with that kind of épatage. But Life is Beautiful actually and quite genuinely thinks it is Good, Actually. Oh, the way Benigni scripted Dora to constantly approve of his comedic and predatory antics really got my goat.


I am sure Mr Benigni is kind to children and animals. I am prepared to accept that he is a model citizen and a good companion. Still, Life Is Beautiful is a disgrace.

David Thomson: The New Biographical Dictionary of Film


In principle, I’m all for flouting hobgoblinish rules of consistency, and I think that farce–a violent genre that feeds on desperation–is often wasted on trivial conflicts. […] But Benigni’s movie made me want to throw up. […] half-works right up to the point where people start getting gassed, and then Benigni’s moist-eyed heroism and tenacious faith in his own irresistibility start to seem like a monstrous ego trip–a clown’s megalomania. […] It’s a gas, all right.

David Edelstein (Slate)