La Vita e’ Bella

by Kelsey Husnick (Kent State University)

Watching foreign films may seem like a dull way to spend an afternoon, especially for someone who’s unfamiliar and/or struggling with the language, but you would be pleasantly surprised if you give it a chance.

As an Elementary Italian II student who can’t spit out more than a basic conversation including, “Hello, where are you from? Do you go to school? How old are you?” the thought of watching an entire film in Italian was daunting.

An Italian professor gave a small group of students at Kent State University an opportunity to watch La vita é bella after class one day. Tuscan native Roberto Benigni directed, wrote, and starred in the film. La vita é bella won three Oscars, for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, and Best Foreign Language Film, at the 71st Academy Awards in 1999.  Benigni also won an award for Best Actor. The film is broken up into two sections, one just before World War II, and one during the last few months of the war. Benigni plays a carefree, imaginative, and optimistic Jewish-Italian man named Guido Orefice. He meets and falls in love with a woman named Dora.  The first half of the film is Guido’s comical attempt to win Dora over, while the second half takes place four years later. Guido and Dora have a son, and the film takes a surprising turn when the family is taken away to a concentration camp. Guido uses his imagination to protect his son from the harsh realities of the camp and takes personal risks to reach out to his wife on the other side of the camp.

I won’t go further into the plot because I strongly recommend watching La vita é bella on your own. At first it is hard to understand the characters because they speak decently fast, as people do in everyday conversations, but it’s easy to get used to the speed after the first 20 minutes or so, and you can pick up on some of the things they are saying. There is of course the beauty of English subtitles, or even Italian subtitles if you’re better with the language and really want to challenge yourself. I usually hate watching films with subtitles because I find them annoying, but I actually forgot I was even reading them by the end of it.

I will warn you: you may want to have tissues on hand. The film is a tear-jerker!


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