Life is Beautiful (US - BD RA)
Jonathan admires Benigni's ambitions but finds him painfully unfunny..
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 marries and has 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. (From the Lionsgate synopsis)
This is probably the first title I've reviewed for the site that I first saw in a classroom. My initial viewing took place during English class my freshman year of high school, and I remember liking it a lot. Was it because it was a great film, or was it because I got to watch it instead of learning for a couple class periods? I never had the urge to watch it ever since, so that must tell you something. Revisiting it now, nearly ten years later, I found that much of the charm it had in my memory is now an irritating presence in the form of Roberto Benigni. His quirky foreign character worked well in Jarmusch's Night on Earth, the only other thing I had seen him in, but Life is Beautiful demands that he carry the movie. The first half of the film, before the Holocaust content settles in, relies entirely on Benigni's charm and comedic ability. It's quite possible that I just find him annoying, but I believe his performance didn't sell the character. Guido's eccentric, spastic mannerisms (which I see as Benigni being Benigni) are more grating than endearing.
Once Guido has a family and the Nazi soldiers force them into a concentration camp, the film makes a significant leap in quality because it no longer rests on Benigni's shoulders as an actor. The concept of a father trying to hide the horrors of the Holocaust from his young child is a moving one, and while it certainly relies on some suspension of disbelief to be pulled off, I found it to be just as effective as when I first saw the film. Some people have ostracized Life as Beautiful, claiming that it makes light of the Holocaust. I don't buy into that for a second. I believe the character Guido takes it very seriously, he just realizes that keeping a upbeat disposition is essential to his child's comfort and peace of mind. It's a unique and moving take on the usual Holocaust stories with good intentions, even if it is manipulative and unconvincing from time to time. I admire Benigni's ambitions as a director, and if the first half of the film had been more subdued and less trite, I would find this story about the power of the human spirit far more convincing and moving.
Much like The Cider House Rules Lionsgate Blu-ray, this 1080p transfer has some very evident telecine wobble. When there are credits on the screen, or when there is a skyline visible, it becomes quite obvious. Mountains and buildings seem to shiver as a result. It never goes away either. Detail is flatter than most modern releases, but still stronger than standard definition could accomplish. Sometimes still close-ups have a weird distorted movement to them which I'm guessing is a result of the compression blocking mixing with the telecine wobble. It's like part of a head that is slightly moving will stay still and not change while another part of it will move. It happens very scarcely, but its a very unattractive side effect. Colour looks considerably better than the DVD, keeping the dry yellowish look of the Italian towns intact, while also capturing the cooler shades of the encampment scenes later in the film. Red's stand out and possess a real depth. It looks as though a modest amount of DNR has been applied as well, which smears out some of the finer textures, but it is a fairly mild case.
This DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio Italian track befits the movie just fine. Surround channels are only used for ambient noise, but it works given the quieter subject matter of the movie. The opening driving scene is appropriately raucous and the only time the LFE channel really makes itself noticeable. Dialogue levels are just fine. There really isn't a lot to say about this film in the audio department. The track gets the job done and meets expectations given the type of film at hand, but it never goes above and beyond to create a dynamic, immersive experience.
Aside from the theatrical trailer, we have Making Life Beautiful (23:27, SD), where talking heads discuss how risky the film is, and what themes it covers. There is some coverage from Cannes, and a lot of film scholars talk favorably of Benigni, likening him to Chaplin. If you're a Benigni film, you may enjoy this "making of" that plays like a tribute to him. The only other feature is five minutes of Academy Award TV Commercials, which are just as insignificant as they sound.
If you find the idea of the human spirit rising above the grim circumstances of the Holocaust fascinating, I recommend reading the non-fictional 'Man's Search For Meaning', by Victor E. Frankl. Life is Beautiful didn't enchant me the same way it did a decade ago, but it is at least half of a pretty good movie. There's a great story of a father's love here if you can get past the light approach or have a high tolerance for Roberto Benigni's outlandish performance. The Blu-ray presentation from Lionsgate has some distracting issues in the video department, but the audio track is solid. The extras don't make much of an impression.
* Note: The below 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 Jonathan Hogberg
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 4th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Italian
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: "Making Life Beautiful" Featurette, Acadey Awards TV Commercials, Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roberto Benigni
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Romance
Length: 116 minutes
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