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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/23/00

Life is Beautiful
Collector's Series - 1997 (1999) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Life is Beautiful Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/B-

Specs and Features

116 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, Making Life Beautiful featurette, TV spots, film-themed menu screens, scene access (27 chapters), languages: Italian and English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"What kind of place is this? It's beautiful: pigeons fly, women fall from the sky! I'm moving here!"

On the list of sensitive subjects, the Holocaust rates rather high. It's a subject so saddening in its very nature, that the notion of a comedy on the subject is almost unthinkable. Roberto Benigni, however, has not only done that very comedy, he's done it better than anybody ever could with Life is Beautiful.

The accomplishment is achieved in large part because the Holocaust isn't the focus of the film. Benigni has made a film entirely about the human capacity for love. The plot goes something like this. Benigni is Guido, a lively young man who moves to a large Tuscan town and falls in love with a local school teacher named Dora. Guido is also Jewish, but this fact isn't revealed until almost half-way through the film. The first half deals with the humorous antics of Guido as he attempts to win over the heart of Dora. The second half of the film takes place some five years after this courtship. Dora and Guido have a child now and are happily married, but the humorous nature of Guido is put to the test as his family is shipped off to concentration camps by the Nazis. Determined to keep his son shielded from the horror around them, Guido invents an elaborate fiction to make his child think it's all just a game.

Benigni has been compared, a great deal, to Charlie Chaplin. The comparison is perhaps more deserved for Benigni than any other. He's referred to Chaplin as a hero of his, and his humor is decidedly physical in a very Chaplin-esque way. In fact, Benigni's prison camp uniform number is the same as Chaplin's uniform number in The Great Dictator. The photography in the film is stunning, but the strength of the movie is in its script and the acting of Benigni. His comedic talents are unmatched, but his inflections are incredible. There is a scene where Benigni is trying to explain to his son where they are being taken. He concocts a humorous fiction on the spot, but his face tells the tale of his fear. It's absolutely splendid in every sense of the word.

The video on the disc is good, but not the best it could be. There is apparent film grain in some scenes and minor defects can be seen periodically. This is not a major flaw, but the video could still be better. One thing that would have helped would have been an anamorphic transfer, which is lacking here. However, the colors must be noted. They are vibrant and distinct, really showing up well on this disc. The audio is also good, but lacks a certain spatial feel. Again, this is good but not incredible.

The extras aren't anything to write home about. The theatrical trailer is complemented by a series of TV spots. This would be very nice if they didn't all look virtually the same. After the first few, they begin melding together and you just want to go back to the menu. A very nice featurette is included, but it isn't entirely insightful. What you get instead is a very good sense of the popularity and acclaim that Life is Beautiful has achieved. Good, but not great.

In the end, the technical side of this disc remains just that: good, but not great. The film, on the other hand is incredible, far exceeding great. It is definitely worth adding to your collection, and the technical weaknesses of the disc in no way detract. Give it a spin, and you will feel the triumph of human spirit.

Brad Pilcher
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