What should one watch if one wants to know about Nuremberg? Which films best capture the essence of the tribunal? Famed film aficionado Lydia Maslova has prepared a unique list of films to accompany the “Nuremberg: Casus Pacis” project. We continue with our series, publishing her recommendations twice a week – the greatest films about the war and its aftermath, from the famous and award-winning, to the niche, but important and meaningful ones.
‘Life Is Beautiful’ (1997, Italy)
Director: Roberto Benigni
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi
The three-time Academy Award-winning movie, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for Benigni - the first time the award went to a non-English performance - Roberto Benigni’s film is based on the book “In the End I Beat Hitler” by Rubino Romeo Salmoni. Described as a comedy-drama, “La Vita e Bella” tells the story of a Jewish-Italian bookshop owner, Guido Orefice (Benigni), who is sent to a concentration camp with his family - uncle Eliseo (Giustino Durano), wife Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), and son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Although Guido is separated from his wife and uncle (his uncle is eventually murdered), he manages to keep his son with him and he employs his imagination to protect the boy from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. The film received mixed reviews from critics: some thought that the Holocaust was not an appropriate subject for jokes and laughter at all. However, the director assumes that there is no other way to save his own sanity and that of his young son, from whom the father masterfully conceals the ugly reality, making the concentration camp routine a fascinating game of hide-and-seek with the promised prize of a real tank. The main conditions for winning this terrifying game are: not to cry, not to call for his mother, and not to complain about hunger.
A film such as “Life is Beautiful” cannot be seen from a strictly realistic stance - it is, of course, a fairy tale to be believed in. But then again, the immensity of the crimes which were perpetrated is so great, it all but exceeds the bounds of belief.
In the fantasy world created by Roberto Benigni, love, fantasy, laughter, and a child's view of the world triumph over death: this perspective may be considered naive and beautifully soulful, but it shows in its own way that under extreme circumstances when life is at stake, there is nothing to rely on but your own strength of spirit.