Every day's a good day.
Few people believed it would be possible to make a comedy set in the nazi concentration camps of wwii. but in life is beautiful (aka: la vita è bella), roberto benigni had a vision of one possible way to tell this tale of horror without dehumanising the lead characters. in fact, the whole film is full of contradictions and surprises. there are two clear stages in the film. the first half concentrates on guido orefice's efforts to woo his chosen lady. he is funny, courageous and irrepressible in his attempts to win the heart and hand of the lovely dora. cunning strategies are used, that take advantage of all the quirks of florence and its people to impress the woman he constantly greets with, "buono giorno principessa", (good day princess). from early on, there is an undercurrent of anti-semitism that casts a cloud over our anticipation of things to come. but for guido, racism is simply another of life's obstacles; all he does is dodge around them in his pursuit of life. pre-war italy still manages to seem magical through his eyes and his attitude becomes infectious. we soon come to believe, along with guido, that anything is possible and if you assume the best will happen, it probably will. dora's situation does not start out quite as rosy. she is betrothed to a boorish man who takes her for granted and seems more interested in his political status than in her happiness. luckily, guido has set his sights on making her life as interesting as possible. and that allows the audience the pleasure of rooting for the underdog; a semi-employed jewish waiter with one sadly misshapen hat. although she doesn't see a way out at first, we all know that guido's optimism will eventually triumph over his straight-laced and narcissistic competitor. soon, the two star crossed lovers are married and joined by a precocious son by the name of giosué, played superbly by the young actor, giorgio cantarini. he clearly takes after his father and is the apple of his parents' eyes. it would take a hard-hearted person to avoid loving this little angle; an angel who will go to any extreme to avoid his bath time. his other main concern seems to be getting enough time to play with his toy tank. but love and optimism are unable to hold back the tide of history. italy soon falls in with germany and begins persecuting their jewish population. on giosué's forth birthday, while his mother is out, soldiers take he and his father. they are bundled into a truck and then a train, headed for the concentration camps. as soon as dora realises what has happened, she follows them into the depths of hell. guido has other problems to occupy him. although he doesn't know exactly what is going to happen, he knows enough to want to shield his son in the only way he can. while they are in the truck he concocts a story to convince giosué that they are taking a surprise trip to celebrate his birthday. as their situation worsens, the fiction becomes more convoluted. guido controls every aspect of his son's perception to convince him they are participating in a most challenging competition, with a full sized tank as the prize. despite the horror of the situation, death all around, brutal labour, starvation and dehumanising barracks, guido focuses all his efforts on the happiness of his son. not only does he succeed in protecting the young boy's fragile soul but it is clear he manages to distract himself as well. guido epitomises selflessness. in the brief moments when he is not labouring for the nazis or entertaining his son, he finds small ways to remind dora that he loves her. i can't think of any more poignant moments in cinema. in the end, guido manages to accomplish what he had set out to do; protect his son. he manages it so well, that giosuè is convinced he has won the tank that rolls into camp as the allied army arrives. his happiness contrasts strongly with the backdrop of death and brutality and we are drawn to celebrate guido's achievement; impossible hope met unthinkable hatred and triumphed. what father could do more for his son?