Top critical review
Subpar holocaust flick with good message
on 30 September 2016
I am well aware of the taboo surrounding negative criticism of movies depicting the holocaust but I have to be honest here. This one really was, all things considered, "meh", though it did have its moments. Almost two hours long, it felt much shorter and apart from Guido Orefice and his son, there really weren't any other memorable characters. Which is understandable, because this film is primarily a father-son story, especially about how the father tries to protect his son's innocence from the madness of war, internment, slave labor and genocide.
I watched the English dub and felt like while they did a good job keeping the Italian accents, I think it is better if one watches this film in the Italian original and reads the subtitles, though reading might take away somewhat from the actors' performance on screen.
The biggest gripe I had with this movie is that the concentration camp portrayed, is fictitious. They could have filmed in a real one, or recreated the layout of a real one to channel more authenticity into the movie. A good example of one camp with homicidal gas chambers and crematoria I can think of near Italy, would for example be the Mauthausen-Gusen complex in Austria. Granted, you wouldn't find an anvil production facility there, but there was a big quarry and plenty of inhuman work done in the area. Which reminds me, a man carrying anvils is of course a more artistically clichéd portrayal of hard labor. Or perhaps, how a child would imagine grown men performing hard labor. The film does hint many times that the main character is not Guido, but his son Giosuè - he is after all, the narrator, and therefore this film can be considered to be constructed from his memories as a child, which would explain some of the movie's artsy quirks. The film's initial humor is sometimes well done, sometimes a bit off, and Guido repeatedly stating he wants to make love to Dora did make me cringe.
The movie treads on thin ice with its mixing of humor and holocaust, and to the film's credit it partitions and isolates the first part where the humor is carefree quite well from the harrowing second half where the humor is bitter and ironic. However, one scene that really shattered this careful framework is during one of the pivotal moments no less, when Guido is captured clinging on to some piping like a monkey and the searchlight moves past him, pauses and then shines back on him. It almost made me laugh because it reminded me of slapstick comedy - and that was the wrong place to put that innuendo for the audience. Similarly the guard's gunfire sounds like a digital soundclip from a synthesizer and not the piercing sharp gunfire sound of a real Mp 40. It felt too ....dull and off...rather then hitting home the raw way it was supposed to in that pivotal moment.
Ultimately, I give the film three stars for the concept, story and message: To claim this is entirely a work of fiction and should have no place in holocaust cinematography due to its humor is erroneous, as I think it reflects a genuine aspect of the holocaust, and what happened 80 years ago: the concept of parents trying to shield their children from it. And I am sure many victims of the holocaust did the things Guido did, if not to this extent. Many died trying their best to preserve their children's innocence, to keep them oblivious to their impending destruction. And that's where this film hits home, and why it is worth watching.