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Sunday, January 7, 2001
Wide Angle

A moving story of love
By Ervell E. Menezes

LIFE is beautiful is an unusual film because it combines satire, physical comedy, social commentary and a touch of the surreal into a moving story of love. The title is attributed to Communist leader Trotsky who while trapped in a bunker waiting for Stalinís hit-men to kill him, uttered the words "life is beautiful", notwithstanding the grim situation he was in. But director Roberto Benigni adapts it to the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Italy during World War II.

A scene from Life is Beautiful Like Charlie Chaplin, Benigni has always created characters who, though funny and accident prone, have a touch of poignancy and pathos. It is a bold fable about the power of laughter to move the human heart and the power of human imagination to bolster the human spirit.

The year is 1939, the place Italy in the grip of Fascism and anti-semitism, a time when some 8,000 Jews were removed from their homes and deported to concentration camps. The central figure is Guido (Roberto Benigni), an enchanting individual with child-like innocence who has grand dreams of owning a bookshop. So he goes to the town of Arezzo (where his uncle lives) along with his poet friend Ferrucio (Sergio Bustric). With unabashed humour and joy, the two of them seek fortune and romance in the face of growing anti-Semitism that engulfs them.

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Guido falls in love with Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a beautiful, young school teacher and though they run into each other accidentally, it is love at first sight. But Dora, whom he refers to as "the princess" is to be married to the local Fascist official. Undeterred, Guido astride a grand white horse, whisks her away and a fairly-tale romance ensues.

Several years later, Guido and Dora have a son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini), a cherubic scene-stealer and the film suddenly shifts gears. From slapstick comedy it moves into satire and the bond between Guido and Giosue grows stronger with each passing frame. More importantly Guido tries to shield his son from the impending dangers by making up stories and even daring to ridicule the Nazi soldiers. He even acts as a translator even though he doesnít know a word of German and this is one of the most hilarious sequences in the film.

"The principle of saving children from trauma, of protecting their purity is one of the oldest, greatest and deepest feelings of man," says Benigni on the subject. "I chose Giosue to be at an age where he can understand everything yet still can believe that it is only a game. Giosue probably knew exactly what was going on, the way children do, but he was willing to go along with the make-believe," Benigni goes on and therein lies the irony of it all. Who was kidding whom?

Benigniís comic gags may not always succeed in raising laughs and he often overdoes his act but it is the pathos that comes across strongly. And yet, there are times when the story tends to repeat itself and it is only the innocence and angelic disposition of Giorgio Cantarini that sort of holds the film together. For one thing Benigni tends to be too verbose and at times monotonous but all this can be overlooked in the light of the caustic satire that comes across.

If Benigni, the actor, tends to overcast it is Nicolletta Braschi who exercises a good deal of restraint and of course little Cantarini easily comes off the best. The "magic realism" kind of thing works only partially and good though the film may be, I canít help feeling it is much overrated because it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

 A scene from Hollow ManIn that respect Hollow Man is surprisingly good. With so many of these special effects (FX) generated films in the market one is at once wary of them being quite similar. But this one is really a thinking manís (sorry, personís) film with a good screenplay and sensitively handled by director Paul Verhoeven. It is an updating of that H.G. Wells classic The Invisible Man but with superior technology the "invisible" aspect is skillfully done.

Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is the leader of a scientific team experimenting with a serum that makes one invisible. It is a top secret project but when Caine himself decides to become the guinea pig and the process is not reversible, it poses a major problem. "You donít know what it is, the power and the freedom," says Caine. The plot is intricate and suspense is sprinkled like mustard. There is also a love triangle to add to the drama and Elizabeth Shue as a fellow scientist steals the show but it is a case of "less is more" where FX is concerned. It is the strong narrative that makes Hollow Man so watchable.

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