Guido Orefice (Benigni) is a young carefree Italian Jew, who moves to a town where he works at his uncle’s hotel as a waiter as he dreams of opening a book store and marrying a girl who he has met by chance. Life seems definitely set to be beautiful as his dreams are realised and he starts a family winning the ‘principessa’ of his dreams, Dora, played by Nicholetta Braschi (Benigni's wife and long time collaborator), away from her aristocratic fiancée.
Although the film was criticised by some who felt it trivialised the holocaust and who also argued that its central message of lying to protect the innocent is highly problematic to say the least, Benigni himself and his defenders argued the film was a fable, a fairy tale and should be judged as such.
It is undoubtedly Benigni's performance, and that of the young boy Giorgio Cantarini, which ultimately wins the viewer over as well as Benigni's obvious sincerity in what he is trying to do. As well as starring and directing, Benigni was also the co-writer of the film, which went on to influence other treatments of the Holocaust such as The Train of Life (1998) and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008).
Benigni has retained his popularity in his native country partly because of his extensive theatrical work, especially in popularising Dante and for his wonderful acerbic and eagerly awaited attacks on Silvio Berlusconi. However, the Blu-ray collector's edition rerelease of Life is Beautiful offers a chance to reassess Benigni at his best, just as he is due to appear once more on our screens in Woody Allen's up-and -coming To Rome With Love (2012).