Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion is also advised – this film contains Holocaust references, very mild bad language and sex references.
La vita è bella (or Life Is Beautiful) is a vastly impressive tightrope act of filmmaking – one seldom seen in contemporary cinema. Despite the controversies surrounding his Oscar-winning film, director, co-writer and star Roberto Benigni (Italy’s Charles Chaplin, no contest) beautifully orchestrates a cinematic feat of balancing humour and naturalistic emotion, in a film which sensitively addresses the atrocities of the Holocaust. Naturally, the pairing of humour and the horrors of a historical tragedy are not typically best suited to one another, but somehow, Benigni crafts an emotional portrayal of fatherhood which not only works, but contains striking similarities to the Father’s love for His creation and His desire to protect us from darkness.
For a film which addresses such difficult subject matter, Benigni handles even the most troubling content with sensitivity, revealing various plot developments through implication, rather than outright revealing bloody violence or injury detail, on screen. We do learn, however, that many atrocities are committed throughout the scenes set within the camp, which dramatically alters the tone of the film in its final third. And whilst the shift in tone invites deep sadness and even righteous anger at the injustices depicted on screen, such a development really allows the film’s overarching motifs to be made known.
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch Life is Beautiful for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about Guido’s act of sacrificial love, for his son – how did it make them feel? Is this a father’s love for their child, taken to the fullest extent? What do they think about God and His desire to protect them from evil, in sending His one and only Son to save them? Later, if they're open to hearing it, take an opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them.
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the film. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, As I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
Life Is Beautiful is available to rent through Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV