Life is Beautiful (1997) is not a Holocaust movie, even though half of the film is set in a concentration camp. Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote, directed, and starred in the film is one of the great comics of Italian cinema. He has made a fable about the salvific powers of love and laughter. The movie won the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor, and Best Music in 1999, as well as over 50 other awards.
Many critics described the film as brilliant, but there were also dissenting voices: Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chonicle wrote that it is an “ambitious film” but that in the end, “it doesn’t work.” Charles Taylor of Salon.com flatly writes that the film is “in offensively poor taste.”
I agree with Charles Taylor; I found it more and more difficult to watch this film in its second half, which is set in a concentration camp. The idea that everything in the camp could be explained away as a “game” is beyond my suspension of disbelief. The “humor” and “love” in the film are portrayed with no regard for the countless families ripped apart and destroyed by the Nazi machinery of death. I do not find Life is Beautiful funny, and most definitely not “beautiful.”
One other thing: I can imagine that someone out there might think that this film is “Holocaust lite” and therefore suitable for children. Even if you accept the sophisticated view of the film prize awarders, and see this as great comic cinema, it is not a film for learning about the Holocaust: the Holocaust is incidental to it. Please don’t take a child to it.