Life is Beautiful

Nearly 50 students and professors packed into the Magill Commons Club Dining Room to attend a screening of the film Life is Beautiful on Thursday, April 16, as part of the University’s 14th annual Global Understanding Convention held last week. 

Jennifer Shamrock, a communication professor at the University, was the co-chair of this year’s convention. According to Shamrock, “The Global Understanding Convention is a consciousness raising experience that this year focused on the violence we inflict on each other, the environment, and animals, and how non-violent responses can help reverse this trend.”

Life is Beautiful is a 1997 Italian tragicomedy comedy-drama film that details the struggles faced by Jewish Italians during the rise of the National Fascist Party (NFP) in 1940’s Italy, and eventual horrors faced by those who were forced into Nazi concentration camps. 

Overall, Life is Beautiful emphasizes the importance of perseverance, and sends the message that, even in times of despair and hardship, the power of love and imagination can overcome all. 

The film depicts the fictional story of Guido Orefice, a comical and intelligent Jewish waiter turned bookshop owner. Orefice is determined to make the best of things and protect his family from the harsh realities they face. Throughout the beginning of the film he often mocks the NFP and undermines its racist logic in a humorous manner. 

Shamrock believes that the film fit in well with this year’s theme. “Life is Beautiful relates the story of the terrible consequences of prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination,” said Shamrock. “By presenting the story of Guido and his family as they experience Anti-Semitism in Italy the film portrays the depths of depravity and violence inflicted by the Third Reich.” 

Guido’s persistence, bold imagination, and upbeat spirit are apparent throughout the film, particularly in his pursuit of Dora, a primary school teacher who is engaged to a local government official and fascist. Despite the engagement, Dora is ultimately swayed by Guido’s affection and asks him to take her way. The two eventually become married and have a son, Giosué. 

As the story jumps ahead several years’ conditions have worsened in Italy, and the NFP has gained significantly more power. Guido struggles to shield Giosué from the growing anti-Semitic culture that has now become the norm. In the late stages of World War II all three of the family members are sent to a concentration camp after Guido and Giosué are forced from their home and Dora willingly tells the officials to put her on the train. 

In order to protect Giosué from the horrors of the camp and hide their true situation from him, Guido invents an elaborate game in which he claims they are participants. He tells Giosué that they must perform certain tasks to gain points, and that the first to 1,000 points will win a prize. Guido’s intellect and imagination are put to the test here, as he must be able to convince Giosué that they are actually part of a game so he does not realize the true severity of their situation. 

After its release in 1997, Life is Beautiful garnered both commercial and critical success.  It won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Roberto Benigni, who played Guido, won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. 

Despite the overall positive response, Life is Beautiful did receive some criticism for adding comedic elements to a story about the Holocaust. However, critics of the film were the minority. In fact, Robert Ebert, a renowned American film critic, gave it three and a half stars and stated that, “The film finds the right notes to negotiate its delicate subject matter.”