A lot of times it’s really obvious when a film has been adapted to the screen from a play. Anything from “Rent” to “Phantom of the Opera” just doesn’t cut it as a movie; it’s overdone, unrealistic, unresponsive to the camera and the spontaneity of the theater is lost. What am I getting at? Not sure, bear with me here. Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” could easily be mistaken for a play-to-film adaptation, except for the fact that his movie is so much better than any stage representation could ever be. I really hope this thing is a play, at least somewhere in Italy, because the man has such a presence about him that it’d be a shame not to see him flourish live. Remember the Oscars?
One thing is for sure: Benigni feeds whatever semblance of a stereotype we have of Italians. He moves his hands A LOT, he speaks with that upturned, emphatic accent and he is almost too happy for words (except he talks too much). The whole thing would actually be quite annoying save for the fact that his character, Guido, is so genuinely nice and adorable that it’s hard to hate him. He is a Robin Hood of sorts, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (mostly himself and his friends) but it’s truly endearing in a “root for the little guy” way. I just don’t really think he’s acting; he’s being himself with different clothes on.
I admit that the structure of the movie was a bit weird, or perhaps just not what I expected. Reading the Netflix synopsis, I thought that the concentration camp part of the film would be, like, the whole film but it was about half; the other half was devoted to Guido courting la BELLA PRINCIPESA DORA (Nicoletta Braschi)—I swear, caps lock is the only way to convey his enthusiasm via text. It was cute, but it seemed a bit long. I don’t know. I also wasn’t sure what his job really was or which parts were dreams or why he ended up in the city. I’ll blame the (faulty) subtitles, if I may. Another unrealistic, if amusing, item was the portrayal of Germans and Americans by Italians. I took German this past semester, so despite the fact that the only Germans on screen were Nazis, I was excited to see if I could understand what the were saying. Turns out my vocabulary is limited to the word “arbeitet”. Sweet. So while the Germans were busy being brusque, stone-cold killers, the Americans were heroic, pale and kind of ignorant. Alright. I guess I can settle for that.
This film is meant to give hope, and it does. It gives hope to average schmucks who desire the love of a pretty lady. It gives hope that vaudevillle-esque humor might one day be cool again. It gives hope that, in tragedy, there will always be an element of comedy. And it gives hope that, at some point, the true joy and beauty of life will come to the surface. Really.