An event such as the Holocaust is a tragic mark of shame in the Europe’s history. A society completely brainwashed into committing some of the most horrendous crimes now looks back with sorrow and guilt. However, the victims left an astounding mark for future generations so they are never forgotten. Their history was recorded through their writings and witness accounts. To understand the Holocaust better, film-makers have directed some of the most amazing films to become visual aids in going back and understanding the past. Life is Beautiful directed by Roberto Benigni and The Garden of the Finzi-Contini by Vittorio de Sica are two such reputable films. However, as the Sica’s film shows the Holocaust impact in the heart-rending and sorrowful manners, Benigni’s film is an unconventional film in this category as it uses comedy to cope with a tragedy.
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Firstly, Vittorio de Sica’s film is about young Jews alienated from their community and not being able to do the same trivial recreational activities as before, specifically playing tennis. It shows how the youth copes with the changing circumstances by physically getting away from them. They go to the Finzi-Continis’ garden, which becomes a safe haven for the Jewish teens. The main characters’ lives prove that they are no different than the people who have labeled them as the enemy. The director deliberately shows their growing up experiences such as love, hate, jealousy, health issues and vulnerability. This displays their human side and draws the audiences closer to them, being able to relate to them and understand why they were wrongly categorized as not being human.
This film grasps the audiences’ attention by directly attacking their emotions. The story events show the seriousness of the holocaust and how it destroyed individuals, families and communities. It also strongly displays the struggle characters go through to hold on to their personal lives and to the people and events which make them who they are as individuals. Different types of Jews are included, so a wider range of audiences may relate to them. For instance, there are class differences between the middle class and rich along with physical differences such as good and bad health.
Secondly, in Life is Beautiful, Benigni tells the same story in a different manner. Comedy and tragedy is a rare combination but if done correctly, it can send a powerful message. In this film, the main character Giudo, an Italian Jewish man, becomes trapped in the World War II propaganda and torture against the Jews. When he is sent to a concentration camp with his son and wife, he makes his goal to help his son survive at any cost. Taking advantage of his son’s innocence, he raises him to be positive and imaginative even in the harshest of circumstances. He does not give up educating his son and realizes that the only thing he has control over is his attitude during the holocaust which he presents very positively.
The traditional education received about the holocaust is often restricted to the same details. The holocaust in Life is Beautiful shows details that people might not have known about earlier. For instance, most holocaust films show non-Jews helping Jews by hiding them from the Nazi police or by aiding them financially in order to leave the country. However, there were also those who chose to give up their lives by joining their loved ones in concentration camps as it was done by Guido’s wife Dora in the movie. This new twist pulled the audience closer to the characters’ sentiments and provided new facts about the historic events.
Furthermore, the relationship between parents and children is often neglected in the holocaust films as they generally focus on the Jewish population as a whole and fail to focus on the individual relationships. What is more, most holocaust movies narrow in on love stories giving the events a romance label. Many do not realize that the more important and the one with more victims was the romance between parents and children. Both Sica’s and Benigni’s films show the father-son relationship and how it was affected by the holocaust. Guido’s focus on his son was a means to provide a comfort and shelter to him from the truth as most parents do when the truth would hurt more than a lies. Georgio’s father was also his comforter and companion when he needed someone in the midst of emotional trauma during a time of physical dilemmas.
The two films also showed how oblivious people were to what was happening to them. Children, such as Giosue, were not to be blamed for their obliviousness as their innocence may be excused. However, there were those inactive participants in the Jewish communities who made no effort to know what was happening to their own people. In Sica’s film, Georgio’s father does not even consider the Finzi-Continis to be a part of their community as they had isolated themselves from the community’s worries. Through this film people realize that persons like the Finzi-Continis also exist, who in a way welcomed their dooms by turning a blind eye to their communities when they were needed. Even though the Finzi-Contini residence became a solace for other Jews, their attitudes and deliberate ignorance bothered others and taught the audiences to become more active participants of their communities.
Personally, Benigni’s Life is Beautiful had a stronger appeal to me and even though it did not change my perspective of the Holocaust, it enhanced it by adding new information. Because Guido’s comedic attitude towards tragedy ultimately saved his son’s life, it made me realize that one’s attitude has the power to change many smaller dilemmas faced in day to day life. Furthermore, I am left wondering about how many other holocaust victims managed to survive through light-heartedness and putting on a good face to stand in front of their adversities. What is more, I am left thinking that if someone like Benigni had been the leading example for the concentration camp prisoners, would he have been able to group them together and unite to battle the injustice through a new wisdom?
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