Life Is Beautiful

Rated 4.0 A Jewish Italian bookseller (director and co-writer Roberto Benigni) is sent to the Nazi death camps with his family, where, to soothe his 6-year-old son, he pretends the whole thing is an elaborate game. Benigni, the “Jerry Lewis of Italy,” is often just that—frantic, overbearing and not half so funny as he thinks he is. Here, for once, he is comparatively restrained and real. Even in the first half of the film (an hour-long prologue to the real story in the second half), Benigni is at pains to be charming, rather than simply assuming that we are charmed. The film is loose and disjointed, a classic case of the clown who wants to play Hamlet. The pleasant surprise is that it’s not as tasteless as it sounds, and Benigni does have his moments. This clown might not make such a bad Hamlet at that.