Showered with awards from festivals around the world, including the Grand Jury prize at Cannes, La Vita E Bella (Life Is Beautiful) is a highly dubious Holocaust comedy, written and directed by Italian joker Roberto Benigni.
It begins as a fairytale love story, involving clowning Jewish waiter Guido (played by Benigni) and the schoolteacher (Nicoletta Braschi) who he successfully woos in a '30s Tuscan town. They subsequently marry and have a child, Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). But several years later, during the Second World War, the family are deported to a concentration camp where Guido convinces his young son that the brutal conditions and the screaming guards are part of a big game.
What we're left with is a fable rather than a fragment of historical realism, presumably intended as a tribute to the power and imagination of humour in deepest adversity - and while the ink-black humour that soaks this overlong work will strike a chord with some, Benigni's comic routines become irksome rather than endearing. Also, the cloying sentimentality isn't successfully held at bay and the inevitable consequence is that La Vita E Bella trivialises the suffering of Holocaust victims.