Life Is Beautiful

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This article is about the 1997 Italian film. For other uses, see Life Is Beautiful (disambiguation). For the album by Freebass, see It's a Beautiful Life (album).
"La vita è bella" redirects here. For other uses, see La vita è bella (disambiguation).
Life Is Beautiful
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roberto Benigni
Produced by Gianluigi Braschi
Elda Ferri
Written by Roberto Benigni
Vincenzo Cerami
Starring Roberto Benigni
Nicoletta Braschi
Giorgio Cantarini
Giustino Durano
Horst Buchholz
Music by Nicola Piovani
Cinematography Tonino Delli Colli
Edited by Simona Paggi
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • 20 December 1997 (1997-12-20)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
Country Italy
Language Italian
Budget $20 million[2]
Box office $229.2 million[3]

Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vita è bella [la ˈviːta ɛ bˈbɛlla]) is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote the film with Vincenzo Cerami. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian book shop owner, who employs his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. Part of the film came from Benigni's own family history; before Roberto's birth, his father had survived three years of internment at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.[citation needed]

The film was a critical and financial success, winning Benigni the Academy Award for Best Actor as well as the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 71st Academy Awards.[4]


In 1930 Italy, Guido Orefice is a young Jewish man who is leaving his old life and going to work in the city where his uncle lives. Guido is comical and sharp, making the best from each situation he encounters. He falls in love with a girl Dora. Later he sees her again in the city where she is a teacher. Dora is set to be engaged to a rich but arrogant man, a local government official with whom Guido has regular run-ins. Guido sets up many "coincidental" incidents to show his interest in Dora. Finally Dora sees Guido's affection and promise and gives in against her better judgement. He steals her from her engagement party on a horse, humiliating her fiancé and mother. By the year 1939 they are married and have a son, Giosuè.

Through the first part, the film depicts the changing political climate in Italy: Guido frequently imitates members of the National Fascist Party, skewering their racist logic and pseudoscientific reasoning (at one point, jumping onto a table to demonstrate his "perfect Aryan bellybutton"). However, the growing Fascist wave is also evident: the horse Guido steals Dora away on has been painted green and covered in antisemitic insults. Later during World War II, after Dora and her mother have reconciled, Guido, his Uncle Eliseo, and Giosuè are seized on Giosuè's birthday. They and many other Jews are forced onto a train and taken to a concentration camp. After confronting a guard about her husband and son and being told there is no mistake, Dora volunteers to get on the train in order to be close to her family. However, as men and women are separated in the camp, Dora and Guido never see each other during the internment. Thus, Guido pulls off stunts, such as using the camp's loudspeaker, to send messages, symbolic or literal, to Dora to assure her that he and their son are safe. Eliseo is executed in a gas chamber shortly after their arrival. Giosuè barely avoids being gassed himself as he hates to take baths and showers, and did not follow the other children when they had been ordered to enter the gas chambers.

In the camp, Guido hides their true situation from his son. Guido explains to Giosuè that the camp is a complicated game in which he must perform the tasks Guido gives him. Each of the tasks will earn them points and whoever gets to one thousand points first will win a tank. He tells him that if he cries, complains that he wants his mother, or says that he is hungry, he will lose points, while quiet boys who hide from the camp guards earn extra points. Giosuè is at times reluctant to go along with the game, but Guido convinces him each time to continue on. Guido uses this game to explain features of the concentration camp that would otherwise be frightening for a young child: the guards are mean only because they want the tank for themselves; the dwindling numbers of children (who are being killed in gas chambers) are only hiding in order to score more points than Giosuè so they can win the game. He puts off Giosuè's requests to end the game and return home by convincing him that they are in the lead for the tank, and need only wait a short while before they can return home with their tank. Guido eventually buys additional time by intentionally getting Giosuè mixed in with nearby German schoolchildren, and briefly working as a servant for the same kids in order to help keep the other officials from noticing that Giosuè is actually Italian.

Despite being surrounded by the misery, sickness, and death at the camp, Giosuè does not question this fiction because of his father's convincing performance and his own innocence. Guido maintains this story right until the end when, in the chaos of shutting down the camp as the Allied forces approach, he tells his son to stay in a box until everybody has left, this being the final competition before the tank is his. As the camp is in chaos Guido goes off to find Dora, but while he is out he is caught by a German soldier. An officer makes the decision to execute Guido. Guido is led off by the soldier to be executed. While he is walking to his death, Guido passes by Giosuè one last time, still in character and playing the game. He winks at Giosuè and Giosuè winks back as Guido is led away to be shot. The next morning, Giosuè emerges from the sweatbox, just as a U.S. Army unit led by a Sherman tank arrives and the camp is liberated. Giosuè is elated and is convinced he has won the game and the prize. The captives in the concentration camp also emerge from hiding. The prisoners travel to safety, accompanied by the Americans. While they are traveling, the soldiers allow Giosuè to ride on the tank with them. Giosuè soon spots Dora in the procession leaving the camp. Giosuè and Dora are reunited and are extremely happy to see each other. In the film, Giosuè is a young boy; however, both the beginning and ending of the film are narrated by an older Giosuè recalling his father's story of sacrifice for his family.



Life is Beautiful was shown at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to win the Grand Prix.[5] At the 71st Academy Awards, the film won awards for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, and Best Foreign Language Film, with Benigni winning Best Actor for his role. The film also received Academy Award nominations for Directing, Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture.[6]


Life is Beautiful was commercially successful. After Miramax Films released the film on 23 October 1998 in the United States, the film went on to gross $57,563,264 in North America, and $171,600,000 internationally, with a worldwide gross of $229,163,264.[3] It is the highest grossing movie to be made in Italy, and the second highest grossing foreign language film in the United States.[7]

The film also received mostly positive reviews, with the film aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a "Fresh" 80% rating.[8] Despite its acclaim, actor-director Roberto Benigni received criticism for its comedic elements incorporated into the backdrop of the Holocaust. Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars, stating, "At Cannes, it offended some left-wing critics with its use of humor in connection with the Holocaust. What may be most offensive to both wings is its sidestepping of politics in favor of simple human ingenuity. The film finds the right notes to negotiate its delicate subject matter."[9]


The original score to the film was composed by Nicola Piovani, with the exception of a classical piece which figures prominently: the "Barcarolle" by Jacques Offenbach. The soundtrack album won the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and was nominated for a Grammy Award: "Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media", but lost to the score of A Bug's Life.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "LA VITA E BELLA (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL) (12A)". Buena Vista International. British Board of Film Classification. 26 November 1998. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Box Office Information for Life is Beautiful. The Wrap. Retrieved 4 April 2013
  3. ^ a b Life is Beautiful Box Office Mojo Retrieved 28 December 2010
  4. ^ "The 71st Academy Awards (1999) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Life is Beautiful". Retrieved 1 October 2009. 
  6. ^ Life is Beautiful The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Retrieved 28 December 2010
  7. ^
  8. ^ Life is Beautiful Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved 2010-12-28
  9. ^ "Ebert". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 

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