Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Life Is Beautiful

Finally! I’ve been dying to see this movie for ages.

A couple months ago at the communal lunch table in my department at work, my friend John was telling some co-workers about having seen LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. I was a couple feet away sitting snugly in my cubicle, taking a rest from my Noam Chomsky primer and eavesdropping. John had already told me about the film that morning.

John was raving about the flick and even said, “There’s talk it’s going to be nominated for an Academy Award this year.”

Fellow associate Ed retorted, “Of course it will. It’s about the Holocaust. The Jews in Hollywood have to vote for it.”

Nobody at the table could respond. My first thought, well my second right after “What an asswipe”, was thank God this was lunchtime and our boss was over in the conference room watching her daily soap. She’s Jewish.

After a few very quiet seconds, Craig finally said, “Yeah, but it was a pretty big, devastating event.”

Of course Ed had a response for that: “Why don’t they just get over it? It’s not like I whine about the Spanish Inquisition everyday.”

In a completely misanthropic, misinformed way Ed sort of makes a point here. Bear with me here for a moment:

Why is it okay to use certain, sort of “approved” historical events to explore man’s inhumanity to man when there are horrors equal to or surpassing the Nazi’s cruelty going on even still today? How many billions of people have been killed in the last 5, 10, 20 years over ridiculous social/political disagreements? Can anyone say “Bosnia”?

Don’t get me wrong, nobody should EVER stop talking about the Holocaust. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL is a completely emotionally devastating film (except maybe to people like Ed). I just saw it a few hours ago and I’m not sure how I’m writing this I’m still so drained and stunned.

Have there been any films made about the Inquisition (excluding Mel Brooks’s HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART ONE)? Last night I finally got around to watching Stephen Spielberg’s AMISTAD about a slave uprising that set off the Civil War. Has anyone ever counted how many Vietnam movies have been made since Oliver Stone’s PLATOON? American history is rife with travesty and genocide, but these seem to be the only events anyone makes movies about.

To gather support for the Gulf War, George Bush called Saddam Hussein “a Hitler”. That may be true, but the U.S. has continually turned a blind eye during Hussein’s constant terrorization of the Kurdish people and even supported him during a crushing of a Shi’ite rebellion immediately following the war. Many experts believe that if the current oil surplus dries up while Hussein is still in power, he’ll even go back to being one of our country’s “friends”.

Or what about Suharto, the oppressive dictator of Indonesia for 32 years? When he overthrew the Sukarno government in 1966, it’s estimated Suharto’s forces massacred anywhere between 500,000 to one million members of the Indonesian Communist Party and it’s supporters. Then nine years later his government, again with U.S. support, wiped out 200,000 residents of East Timor, over a quarter of the population. If Suharto isn’t a Hitler, he’s at least a Stalin. I haven’t seen any cute Australian comedies (CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION) about him.

There was already a film made about the dopey invasion of Grenada, Clint Eastwood’s 1986 HEARTBREAK RIDGE. Where’s Oliver Stone’s searing analysis of the Iran/Contra scandal? Woody Allen made a comedy about Cuba, BANANAS. Maybe he can work on a new laugh-fest about the CIA’s conspiring with known drug runners to bring crack into the inner cities. Oh right, that didn’t happen.

Did you know that as of 1996, America is the largest supplier of global weaponry? “Bleeding heart liberal” Bill Clinton has improved the Washington arms industry from 16 percent in 1988 to 63 percent in 1997. When U.S. forces are sent on worldwide “peacekeeping” missions, they’re generally staring down the barrels of guns made in their home country. Maybe the man who’s given adultery a bad name should be on trial, but not for sticking his dick in some “innocent” girl’s mouth. Ah, arms sales don’t affect the average American citizen. But at least you know one reason why the economy’s doing so well. I’m just dying to see a Monica TV Movie of the Week.

Anyway, John turned out to be right and LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL has been nominated for a best picture Oscar. I don’t think, though, that it’s just because “the Jews in Hollywood” had to vote for it. I don’t normally pay attention to the Academy Awards, but I think it’s a tough call this year between LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and THE THIN RED LINE. Both are, in their own completely different ways, challenging, progressive films.

Oh, who am I kidding? SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is going to win. Which was a good movie, I’m not knocking it. While RYAN was also a powerful film, it was too cheesy to be “Best Picture”. But that’s what people like – Movies about something bad that make them feel good. A Suharto or Hussein or CIA/crack or Iran/Contra film would bum too many people out.

[I’d like to thank the magazines IN THESE TIMES and EXTRA! and the book CENSORED 1998 for research for this review to make me sound smarter than I really am.]