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(Review originally written at 6 May 2007)

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Having heard nothing but positive about this movie, I must admit that I was slightly disappointed by the movie. The movie is not the effective and emotional involving concentration camp movie it promised to be, which is due to some poor choices of storytelling and its approach. But of course nevertheless this movie is way better than the just average movie regarding the subject and the movie still manages to be effective on most of its fronts, just not on the most important ones.

The main problem with the movie is that it can be divided into two separate parts. In the first part of the movie 'life is wonderful' and everything is perfect and the story is told almost fairytale like, with a dreamy like love-story and lots of slapstick-comedy in it. It's just too perfect and happy all, which really doesn't make the movie believable. Yes, I of course realize that this was done on purpose to make the contrast of the second halve of the movie that is set in a concentration camp all the more bigger. It's almost like; no matter what we are going to show in the second halve, it's always going to look worse and more horrible compared to the 'happy' perfect-life first part of the movie. It felt like a really cheap way to steer the viewer's emotions. And let's face it, nothing really bad actually ever happens in the second halve For example; correct me if I'm wrong but we never get to see anyone get killed on screen. And all of the prisoners could walk around freely it seemed and the way the story was told made it seems as if they were in the camp for only two days or so. We never get to see any of the WW II cruelty which occurred in these sort of concentrations camp at the time of the war, with the exception of two or three sequences, which just isn't quite good and effective enough for such a sort of movie that tries to get the viewers emotional involved with the characters and events that occur in this movie. Also the fact that the mother was on the other side of the concentration camp gets highly underused and underdeveloped. They could had really made the movie more effective and emotional with this plot element.

Also the comedy of the movie was far too slapstick like for a movie with such an heavy subject. It for me was the reason why I enjoyed watching the movie but yet just never got emotionally involved with it. Roberto Benigni is a clown, not an actor! But yet he won an Oscar for his role in this movie. Sorry, can't say I'm really a fan of him. Too much jumping around and shouting and not enough structured acted out humor, though he shows he's a competent director with this movie. Despite taking some not so effective approaches, the movie is still well structured and directed.

It's rather cute that Bengini and his wife Nicoletta Braschi always appear together in movies but I'm sorry to say that Nicoletta Braschi just isn't the greatest actress around,, to put it mildly. It's also always dangerous to have a young kid play one of the other main characters of the movie. Giorgio Cantarini does an effective job with looking cute and Innocent at all but he also looked a bit too much to the things going on behind the camera's during sequences, as if he wasn't focused enough on the actual filming process. This was getting a bit disturbing after a while, especially in some of the sequences toward the end of the movie, which are the most heavy moments of the movie.

I admire the approach the story picks when the movie gets set in a concentration camp, when the father is coming up with all kinds of things to make his young son believe they are in some sort of holiday camp, instead of a concentration camp. Truth gets mixed up with fiction in the movie, which provides the movie with some good moments. It's perhaps the best and most interesting idea of the movie, which certainly helps to make this movie an unique one.

The movie is really good looking, which is of course mostly due to the Italian settings of the movie but the movie also does a good job at re-capturing the '40's period, in terms of costumes, sets and props. The movie is most definitely not a cheap-looking one, which perhaps is the case with most other European productions, especially the ones regarding the same subject and time period.

The movie was one of the big surprises of 1997 and was also nominated for 7 Oscar's, also including the ones for best movie, best directing and best screenplay. The movie eventually took home 3 statues for actor in a leading role, best foreign language movie and best music.

I was overall slightly disappointed by the movie but my expectations for it were perhaps a bit too high.

7/10

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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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