Life if Beautiful: 15th Anniversary Special Edition (UK - BD RB)
Marcus reviews the 15th Anniversary of this Miramax Oscar winner on Blu-ray...
Roberto Benigni is Guido, a charming, bumbling Jewish waiter whose colourful imagination and playful spirit help him to woo a beautiful schoolteacher (Nicoletta Brashi). The couple marry and have a young son, but before long their idyllic world is threatened by Nazi soldiers who force the family into a concentration camp. Guido must now use his imagination again - this time, to transform his son's tragic new surroundings into a magical wonderland.
So, it's been fifteen years since Life is Beautiful was released has it? Man, time does fly doesn't it. We've all got older but Life is Beautiful still manages to keep its charm and its fairly unique approach to the holocaust still feels brave and rather special.
Roberto Benigni's performance is still one that fascinates me. The slapstick comedic approach to this character is about 50% great and 50% annoying. The slapstickness of everything and the fast dialogue is captivating considering the backdrop of this story but he still reminds me of a Looney Tunes character in that he's funny to watch and lovable but I can't shift the thought that if I were on the receiving end of his antics he'd be a right pain in the ass. However none of that really matters because once this story leaves behind its series of amusing sketches, wonderfully romantic sentiments and the weight of World War II and the mistreatment of the Jewish people begins, this one really begins to tug on the old heartstrings.
Benigni's joyful clown of a character, who seems to pull something magical out of any bad situation is the key to feeling the drama here and it works wonders. You feel this man's pain, fear and sadness in ways not usually found in movies about the holocaust. Playing on the audience's knowledge of the horrific events, Life if Beautiful walks a thin line between being thoroughly depressing and wonderfully uplifting. Guido's protecting of his son is handled in a way you could never image actually working but at the same time you want, no NEED it to. Hiding his son away from the camp guards or the group "showers" and never breaking from the story he's fed to his bambino that this is a game where they can win a tank, as long as they stick to the rules is crushing for any parent watching.
Life is Beautiful is pure cinema in its approach, it feels like a production akin to the likes of The Sound of Music or movies from a bygone era yet the exploration of the Jewish camps and the strength Guido shows or indeed the sacrifices he makes for his family feels genuine. There's a sense of danger because the audience know the larger story and despite avoiding the graphic nature of the camps for the large part, the few images we do see to reveal the true extent of the horror here are striking and the real punch to situation. Life is Beautiful still feels different in its approach to the holocaust but it doesn't make it any less effective.
During the opening credits this image feels flat and soft with washy drab colours and I was worried this was another bad Miramax Blu-ray release. As soon as the opening credits end all that changes. The image is much sharper, with way more depth and looks beautifully HD. There are sharper edges, way more colours and generally this is a very impressive looking transfer. There is a wobble to the frame from time to time, which you'll notice if you look closely but it is slight enough to be ignored for the most part. Other than that, colours, though largely a variation of yellow, dusty oranges and of course greys within the camp are all well presented. Light sources make everything glow nicely and for the most part this transfer is a very nice high definition clean up that celebrates an Oscar winning classic.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is good and strong with a well placed score that supports the strong central dialogue. The film generally keeps it that simple but the odd bit of ambience that crops up is never anything that draws attention to itself. Some of the music accompanied set pieces are very crisp, the engagment party scene has a live band where every element is heard and with quite a bit of power too and the same goes for the opera scene. Other than those highlights it's kept quite basic. The heart warming score is great and in the closing credits blasts out with some real ommph. This is a solid track all round really.
'Revisiting Life is Beautiful 15 Years After' (54:50 HD) starts with Martin Scorsese celebrating the film and then we get the story behind the story via many attached to the movie as well as cinema experts, though nothing from the stars of the film. That said this really gives a complete background to the film and is well worth a look.
The making of (23:27 SD) is more than a simple making of and has reviewers and actors (not attached the film - like Michael Keaton) talking about the film as well as critics' feelings towards the film.
The 'Interviews with Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi' (09:26 SD) are a really nice addition to the disc because they were missed on the other extras and it's always good to see Benigni's passion for the film shine out of him.
Lastly we get B-Roll footage (09:52 SD) and the trailer (02:14 SD).
Life is Beautiful is still, well, beautiful. Its different approach to the holocaust could very well be more heartbreaking than the way most films tackle the subject, just because the juxtaposition of the infinitely upbeat central character persevering for the sake of his son makes the backdrop feel even more overbearing - you just don't want to see this man broken. The Blu-ray actually wound up being quite impressive, with some fine visuals, some strong audio and a solid selection of extras. Fans of the film should be very pleased with this one.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 2nd April 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Italian, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: Documentary, Making of, B-Roll, Interviews, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roberto Benigni
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Genre: Drama and War
Length: 116 minutes
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