In the 1998 film season of very bad dads (Affliction, Happiness) and father figures (American History X), Roberto Benigni's portrayal of profound parental love is as moving as it is hyped up to be-and deserves its every accolade and award. As a statement against war and inhumanity, Life is Beautiful's insight into the personality of victims who did not allow themselves to be victimized is every bit affecting as the large scale depictions illustrated in Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line.
Life is Beautiful is introduced as a fable. From a Dramatica perspective, it contains two grand argument stories; a boy meets girl romantic comedy, followed by a father and son tragicomedy. Writer/director and actor Benigni is the steadfast main character and protagonist for both.
In the farcical love story, Guido comes to town (mc problem-unproven), and through mishap and happenstance, falls in love and wins the heart (relationship story solution-effect) of an unhappy and unpretentious upper class beauty, Dora. He is the comic version of a knight in shining armor, rescuing (mc approach-doer) his gentile principessa from an arranged (influence character problem-determination) society marriage (ic thematic conflict-value vs. worth). The horse he carries her away on has been painted with anti-Semitic (objective story problem-determination) slurs. Although Jewish (mc domain-universe), Guido allows his buoyant nature to brush off this portent (forewarnings-future) of political turmoil (os domain-physics).
A clever camera transition flash-forwards the action (story driver) to Guido and Dora's idyllic life. On their young son Giosue's birthday, Dora's mother has finally reconciled to her daughter marrying a working class Jew. Dora picks up grandmother for the birthday party celebration-when they arrive it is clear Guido, Giosue, and Guido's uncle have been picked up as well-by the Nazi's. Dora volunteers herself as a prisoner, and is immediately separated further from husband and son.
To keep the horror at bay (mc growth-stop), Guido desperately constructs a make-believe (rs concern-being) world for Giosue. The concentration camp is the site of an elaborate game (rs domain-psychology)-the prize a life size tank. Guido is executed on the eve of the war's end, but not before ensuring the security (mc unique ability) of his adored son (mc judgment-good).
Roberto Benigni and writing partner Vincenzo Cerami's story between Guido and Giosue is far more significant (and sophisticated) than that of the amusing love story, in terms of the harshness of the objective story's reality and the main character's deep emotional investment in his loved ones. From a Dramatica point of view, however, each contains a functional storyform that carries equal weight. They are identical with the exception of the problem/solution, symptom/response in all four throughlines. The storyform is the first stage of communication--it is the skeleton that underlies the author's unique storyencoding and storyweaving--awaiting an audience reception of cheers and tears that, in the case of a bellisimo story such as Life is Beautiful, are sure to come.
In the Dec/Jan 1999 Written By interview, Benigni relays an anecdote about story worth recounting:
The Russian writer Nabokov, he wrote that he saw, one day, people were trying to pull out a big tree by the roots, and they weren't able to pull it out. Then one of them jumped on the tree and started to sing. And then with more weight, and a man less, they were able to pull it out. . . . The storyteller, the poets and the artists are like this-they don't do anything-they are more weight-but they give the strength. Without them, we are not able to do anything. We don't have the music, we don't have the life, we don't see anything. . . . So [Life is Beautiful] is a homage to the storyteller, which is the most ancient job in the world. (66)