La vita è bella aka Life is Beautiful (1997) A Thought-Provoking Italian Holocaust Movie

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La vita è bella is a very unusual movie that you will hardly ever forget should you watch it. It is touching, at times funny, tragic and sentimental. It shows one man’s attempt to protect his child from the horrors of the concentration camp and how he fails in the end. It is one of the movies on my Children in War Movies List.

Roberto Benigni, the Italian main actor, writer  and director of La vita è bella is mainly known as a comedian. People were quite surprised when they heard he had done a movie on the Holocaust. I remember that I had mixed feelings but was really surprised how well this combination works. Other critics however felt offended as they stated it was in poor taste to attempt to combine a comedy with the topic of the Holocaust. But the comedy pretty much stops when the war begins. The movie has really two parts that are strikingly different which was obviously wanted. The beautiful before and the horrible after.

The Jewish man Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) is not a good-looking guy. He is not even very intelligent. He is clumsy and silly but also very funny and charming and has an eye for poetical and beautiful things. This is how he wins the heart of the attractive Dora even though she is already engaged to a future fascist leader.

The second part starts a few years after their marriage. They have a little boy named Guisoué. Anti-Jewish laws have been implemented in Italy and Guido tries to hide their meaning from his son by turning them into a game. When they know they will be deported, Dora, even though she is not Jewish, accompanies them to the concentration camp. Once arrived Guido pretends that this is all a game, some sort of summer camp for children and grown-ups alike. He makes his son believe that they have to follow all the orders strictly if they want to win.

I must admit that I did not totally approve of Benigni’s approach, but it is not a movie that is easily forgotten. And it is thought-provoking and will give ample material for discussion of various questions. Are we allowed to tell the Holocaust through comedy? Should a movie about the Holocaust be this sentimental? Wouldn’t it be better to tell it in a more sober manner? La vita è bella is also problematic when it comes to the historical facts. Children were not kept alive in the camps. Still the first part is a touching and funny story of an impossible courtship while the second is the story of a fathers attempt at keeping the horror at bay.

Did you see it? Did it work for you? And if you haven’t, would you want to watch it? Do you mind a Holocaust comedy?


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Children in War Movies: A List

In this post I would like to focus on war  movies in which children have leading roles and are not just supporting actors like in The Hurt Locker to name but one example.

There are many movies whose sole focus are children. They come from different countries, show different conflicts and times but they have one thing in common: they are all good, very good or outstanding. This is quite remarkable. It is as if those film directors who aim for entertainment only would shy away from showing children in war movies. All the movies listed below are very different in tone. Some are light and almost playful, like Hope and Glory, some are depressing and raw like Come and See, others have the quality of a fairytale like Pan´s Labyrinth.

I am sure my list is not exhaustive. If you know of any others, let me know. I will try and review most of them in later posts,  like I already did with Hope and Glory (see post), Welcome to Sarajevo (link to post), The Children of Huang Shi (see post) and Savior (see post). I am stating the name and the year and country in brackets. The conflict and where the war takes place follow behind. I did include a few movies with teenagers in it like The Bridge or Napola, but most of the others focus on much smaller children. I did also  include Savior as the newborn is central to the story.

I am sure you will discover many you did not know yet as I did.

The Drum (GB, 1938): India

Mrs Miniver (US 1942): WWII, British Homefront

Since You Went Away (US, 1944): WWII, American Homefront (here is my review)

Roma, Città Aperta aka Rome, Open City (Italy, 1945): WWII, Italy

Kim (US, 1950): India

Forbidden Games aka Jeux interdits (1952, France): WWII, France

The Bridge aka Die Brücke (1959, Germany): WWII, Germany

Two Women aka La ciociara (1960, Italy/France): WWII, Italy

Ivan’s Childhood aka Ivanovo detstvo (1962, Soviet Union): WWII, Russia

Hornet´s Nest (1970, USA): WWII, Italy

Lacombe Lucien (1974, France): WWII, France

The Tin Drum aka Die Blechtrommel (Germany, 1979): WWII, Germany

Hope and Glory (1987, UK): WWII, Blitz  (Here is my review)

Empire of the Sun (1987, USA) : Chinese-Japanese War WWII

Au-revoir les enfants aka Goodbye, Children (1987, France/Germany): WWII, Holocaust,France

Grave of the Fireflies aka Hotaru no haka (1988, Japan): WWII, Japan. Anime. (See my post)

Europa, Europa aka Hitlerjunge Salomon (1990 Germany/France/Poland): WWII, Germany (See my review)

Come and See aka Idi i smotri(1985, Soviet Union): WWII, Byelorussia

The Ogre aka Der Unhold (1996, France/Germany/UK): WWII, Nazi Germany

Welcome to Sarajevo (1997, USA) : Bosnia

Life is beautiful aka La vita è bella (1997, Italy): WWII, Holocaust (see post on La vita è bella)

Savior (1998, USA ): Bosnia

Silent Night (2002, USA): WWII, Germany (see my post on Silent Night)

Innocent Voices aka Voces inocentes (2004, Mexico/USA/Puerto Rico): El Salvador (see my post on Innocent Voices)

Turtles can fly aka Lakposhtha parvaz mikonand (2004, Iran/France/Iraq): Iraq

Before the Fall aka Napola (2004, Germany): WWII, Germany (see my review of NaPola)

Pan´s Labyrinth aka El laberinto del fauno (2006, Spain): WWII Franco´s Spain

Under the Bombs aka Sous les Bombes (2007, France/Lebanon): 2006, Lebanon (see my review of Under the Bombs)

Miracle at St. Anna (2008, US): WWII, Italy (here is my review)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008, UK/USA): WWII, Holocaust (see my review)

Escape from Huang Shi aka The Children of Huang Shi (2008, Australia, China, Germany, USA): Japanese occupation of China

Winter in Wartime aka Oorlogswinter (2008, Netherlans, Belgium): WWII, occupied Hollad in Winter, 1945 (here is the link to my post)

The Fortress of War aka Brestskaya krepost (2010, Russia): WWII, Russia 1941. Germans attack the Brest Fortress (here is the link to my post).

The Round-Up – La Rafle (2010, FR/GE/HU): WWII, Paris, the round-up of 13000 Jews in the Vel d’Hiv (here is my review)

This list is being updated regularly.