Italy's rubber-faced funnyman Roberto Benigni accomplishes the impossible in his World War II comedy Life Is Beautiful
: he shapes a simultaneously hilarious and haunting comedy out of the tragedy of the Holocaust. An international sensation and the most successful foreign language film in US history, the picture also earned director-cowriter-star Benigni Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor. He plays the Jewish country boy Guido, a madcap romantic in Mussolini's Italy who wins the heart of his sweetheart (Benigni's real-life sweetie, Nicoletta Braschi) and raises a darling son (the adorable Giorgio Cantarini) in the shadow of fascism. When the Nazis ship the men off to a concentration camp in the waning days of the war, Guido is determined to shelter his son from the evils around them and convinces him they're in an elaborate contest to win (of all things) a tank. Guido tirelessly maintains the ruse with comic ingenuity, even as the horrors escalate and the camp's population continues to dwindle--all the more impetus to keep his son safe, secure and, most of all, hidden. Benigni walks a fine line mining comedy from tragedy and his efforts are pure fantasy--he accomplishes feats no man could realistically pull off--both of which have drawn fire from a few critics. Yet for all its wacky humour and inventive gags, Life Is Beautiful
is a moving and poignant tale of one father's sacrifice to save not just his young son's life but his innocence in the face of one of the most evil acts ever perpetrated by the human race. --Sean Axmaker
In 1939, young Italian Jew Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) travels with his friend Ferruccio to Arezzo, where his uncle has promised to help set him up with a bookshop. Guido immediately falls in love with beautiful gentile Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), and eventually woos her away from local fascist official Rodolfo. Guido and Dora marry, have a son, Giosué, and are very happy. However, when war breaks out a few years later, Guido and Giosué are moved to a Nazi concentration camp. Determined to protect his son from the horrors of war, Guido tells him that the camp is all part of a game, and that Giosué's prize will be a life-size version of the toy tank he loves to play with. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for Roberto Benigni.