Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian language film which tells the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice (played by Roberto Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the film), who must employ his fertile imagination to help his family during their internment in a Nazi concentration camp.
At the 71st Academy Awards, Benigni won the Academy Award for Best Actor and the film won both the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The first half of the movie is a whimsical, romantic comedy and often slapstick. Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), a young Italian Jew, arrives in Arezzo where he plans to set up a bookstore, taking a job in the interim as a waiter. He lives with his uncle Eliseo. Guido is both funny and charismatic, especially when he romances Dora (Italian, but not Jewish, and portrayed by Benigni’s actual wife Nicoletta Braschi), whom he steals—at her engagement—from her rude and loud fiancé. Several years pass in which Guido and Dora have a son, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). In the film, Joshua is around four and a half years old, however both the beginning and ending of the film are narrated by an older Joshua.
In the second half, Guido, Uncle Eliseo and Joshua are taken to a concentration camp on Joshua’s birthday. Dora demands to join her family and is permitted to do so. When Dora boards the train she is the only one wearing red, as everyone else is wearing dark coloured clothes. Guido hides Joshua from the Nazi guards and sneaks him food. Uncle Eliseo is gassed to death, though the others do not know. In an attempt to keep up Joshua’s spirits, Guido convinces Joshua that the camp is just a game, in which the first person to get 1,000 points wins a tank. He tells Joshua that if he cries, complains that he wants his mother or complains that he is hungry, he will lose points, while quiet boys who hide from the camp guards earn 1,000 points. To further prove that the camp is a game he pretends to translate the guard’s instructions.
Guido convinces Joshua that the camp guards are mean because they want the tank for themselves and that all the other children are hiding in order to win the game. He puts off every attempt of Joshua ending the game and returning home by convincing him that they are in the lead for the tank. Despite being surrounded by rampant death and people and all their sicknesses, Joshua does not question this fiction because of his father’s convincing performance and his own innocence.
Guido maintains this story right until the end, when—in the chaos caused by the American advance—he tells his son to stay in a sweatbox until everybody has left, this being the final test before the tank is his. After trying to find Dora, Guido is caught, taken away and shot by a Nazi guard, but not before making his son laugh one last time by imitating the Nazi guard as if the two of them are marching around the camp together. Joshua manages to survive and thinks he has won the game when an American tank arrives to liberate the camp. He is reunited with his mother, not knowing that his father has died. Years later, he realizes the sacrifice his father made for him and also, that it was for that sacrifice that he is still alive today.