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Defend the sometimes-humorous portrayal in Life is Beautiful.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that the humor employed in Benigni's work is one that helps to accentuate the horror of the Holocaust.  The humor that Benigni employs is one that enables us to view the Holocaust as a child would, like Guido's son would.  In a sense, the viewer is as confused as the child about the reality of the Holocaust.  How could such a condition happen?  Why would human beings do such a thing to another?  What does one do in the death camps and how does one live?  These are questions to which there can be no exact and direct answer.  Rather, we end up having to capitulate to Guido's game and his humor because it makes sense in a world where there is no sense to be made.  Rather than embrace the reality of hopelessness and loss for a child, Guido constructs a game of survival, using humor to defray the natural pangs of fear and insecurity that would result in the condition intrinsic to the death camp.  The humor is not derived to make light of the Holocaust.  Rather, it is used to accentuate the horror within it.  Through this, I believe that the use of humor is relevant and profound in the film.

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crj826 | Student

Roberto Benigni's 1997 film Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella) remains somewhat of an outlier in regards to films about the Holocaust for the director's humorous portrayal of the film's protagonist, Guido. As Guido and his Jewish family are taken by Nazis to a concentration camp, he convinces his young son that they are players in a complicated game but that nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Leading up to this part of the film, the audience is made aware of Guido's charming and silly sense of humor and personality within the context of a dark and serious historical period. The fact that Guido continues to make audiences, and more importantly, his son, laugh even during their time spent in a concentration camp is in tune with Benigni's performance as a whole. Many would credit Benigni's ability to maintain this humor in such circumstances a real act of bravery that parallels what persecuted Jews throughout Europe persevered with during World War II. Not all narratives of the Holocaust are defined solely by their unjust and often horrific ends. To deny Benigni the ability to find humor in the film insults his audience's aptitude to not lose sight of the vile actions and beliefs that brought Guido and his family into the concentration camp. A film, like any other art form, deserves to be as nuanced as the people whose stories they tell. Therefore, I believe that as long as an auteur remains respectful to the individuals being represented in a film, humor is permissible. In the case of Life is Beautiful Guido's humor is truly courageous, as the consequences are so high. He is not a naïve man whom audiences root against. The opposite is true. Life is beautiful despite individual lives that are cut short in agony.