For this week’s Favorite Italian Films series, I’m pleased to welcome Cherrye Moore from My Bella Vita to share with us her favorite Italian movie … and a great language learning tip, too!
Many multi-linguists—my Italian husband included—will tell you that watching foreign movies is vital to your language-learning success … and I believe them. My husband and I met 10 years ago and—bless his heart—a word or two of choppy English was all he could muster during our first encounter.
He’s now fluent in English and is living proof foreign films and programming can improve your knowledge of a language, so it didn’t take me long to jump on that bandwagon when I moved to Italy. I had been here only a few months and was home alone one night … no one to talk to on the phone, no must-see show on TV … no sheep waiting to be counted to lure me asleep.
Since I find it prohibitively tedious to watch English movies or TV programs that have been dubbed into Italian, I went through his personal DVD collection and selected—what would soon become—my favorite Italian movie ever … La Vita è Bella.
La Vita è Bella, or Life is Beautiful, as the English-language titles goes, is the story of a young Jewish-Italian man named Guido, who is portrayed by one of Italy’s most famous comics, Roberto Benigni (who also directed and co-wrote the film.) The movie has two decidedly different halves-the first distinctively Italian in its silly and playful nature-the second, serious … foreboding … heartbreaking.
At the beginning of the film, Guido arrives in Arezzo and charms his way into the life of a young, beautiful aristocrat named Dora, who is played by Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni‘s real-life wife. Throughout the first part, Guido tries to woo this wealthy woman from her well-to-do fiancé, as he struggles to open a bookstore while working at a restaurant in his uncle’s hotel.
The second part of the movie brings World War II, Germany has invaded Italy and Guido and his family find themselves prisoners in a concentration camp.
I laughed. I cried. I laughed while I cried … I cried while I laughed, I experienced a smorgasbord of emotions I never knew a film could evoke.
While I would love to continue on with a more thorough review of the film, I cannot in good faith-lest at least one of you has not seen it-tell you anything else. Part of the beauty of this movie is not knowing what will happen, whether Guido will steal Dora from her mean-spirited fiancé, what will happen to Guido and his family once they are taken prisoners. How they will make it out alive … or if they will.
Even if you don’t speak the language, I urge you to watch this film in Italian-with English subtitles, as part of the charm and Italian nuances truly are lost in translation.
Awards (as taken from Wikipedia)
The movie won the Academy Award in 1999 for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and Best Foreign Language Film and Benigni won Best Actor for his role as Guido Orefice. The film was additionally nominated for Academy Awards for Directing, Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Benigni’s win for Best Actor made him the second person to direct himself in an Oscar-winning performance.
Have you seen La Vita è Bella? What did you think? Were you as in love with Guido as I was throughout the film?
Cherrye Moore is an American freelance writer and Calabria travel consultant living in southern Italy. She writes about travel for MNUI Travel Insurance and about traveling in Calabria on her sites, My Bella Vita, and Il Cedro B&B, the website for her bed and breakfast in Catanzaro.