This 1997 film, directed by Italian comedian Roberto Benigni (who also plays Guido, the main character) effectively accomplishes the difficult task of making us laugh in the midst of one of the most tragic and horrific events people have suffered: The Holocaust.
In 1939, Guido, an Italian Jew who wants to own a bookstore some day, has just started working as a waiter in a hotel. A few days earlier, he has met school teacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), under peculiar circumstances, and he has fallen in love with her. He doesn’t know however, that she is about to marry someone else in that same hotel where he now works. But life smiles at Guido who always overcomes any adversity with his resourcefulness and good temper, and he eventually marries Dora. They become parents of Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini), and Guido is able to open his bookstore.
A few years has passed when they begin to face the hate Mussolini’s fascists are spreading. Guido and his family are taken to the concentration camps where, to protect his five-year-old son’s innocence from the brutality that surrounds them, he tells Joshua that it’s all a game, and that the winner will get a big prize at the end. From then on, we marvel at how this father manages through fate, life’s synchronicity, and his own ingenuity, the almost impossible feat of bending a crushing reality for his son’s sake.
In one of the funniest scenes, Guido (who doesn’t speak German) volunteers to interpret the harsh orders and rules barked by one German soldier. Guido’s hilarious translation confuses the other prisoners while amazes little Joshua. This is a a very contrasting scene with the one that might move you to tears when Guido plays a record aloud, so his wife can hear it in one of the distant buildings where she is confined.
With a physique resembling Woody Allen, and a comedy mix similar to Chaplin, Jerry Lewis and Mel Brooks, Benigni, with this film, make us laugh and feel humans in the face of terror. Not only he achieved honoring the victims through a comedy around one of the darkest events in human history, but he also made an ode to a father’s sacrifice for his child. In the end, like Joshua’s prize, the lesson from this movie won’t disappoint you.