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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Italy Month: Life Is B-E-A-Utiful

It's November, lads. That means put down your razors and get your bum fluff on in support of Movember, the only high-profile charitable event that gives a damn about men's health. If you don't have the capacity to grow hair out of your top lip, draw a moustache on with permanent marker, or maybe even donate some money to the cause by following the very handy hyperlinks scattered shamelessly throughout this paragraph.

The money will then be converted into even more hyperlinks.
But I'm not a man who would take more than a couple of lines worth of time out of my busy schedule to do something nice, so we'll have enough of that charity guff and get on with the moustachio-related matters of this post. In celebration of the month of all thing face-fuzz related, I have decided to dedicate this month's posts to the undisputed moustache champions of the world: the Italians.

Germany will reclaim their title when they reanimate Bismarck.
As such, I will be looking at three classic Italian movies, each famous in their own right, be that good or bad, and giving my usual well informed and witty critique on proceedings in real time, just like the other time that went so well. To start off, we'll be looking at Roberto Benigni's 1997 war comedy-drama Life Is Beautiful, so let's get going.

From a mere ten minutes of viewing, I can already safely say that the film's protagonist, the spectacular Guido (played by the director himself) is one of the single most charismatically crazy men I have ever seen. This guy bounces around the beautiful Italian countryside like a kid with ADHD and a serious meth-amphetamine problem who just took a bath in strong coffee. Two minutes of screen time and I'm already grinning just looking at him.

The hat does that for the whole film.
The humour comes thick and fast, suiting Guido's character down to the tee, with no scene seeming to last more than a few minutes but always giving us an almost touching insight into the place, the people and Guido himself as we follow his adventures of moving to a new town, getting a job, crashing an Aryan race-promoting school service and, obviously, falling in love. And it's this quiet love story between him and a school teacher, his "princess", that provides some truly "g'awhh, shucks" moments in the first act of the film. I'm far too busy gushing over such a perfect romance to even notice any of the actual filmic styles being used. As far as I can tell, it seems to be in colour and they appear to be using people for all of the talking and moving and such.

Early cinema used a bunch of rats taped together.
But yes, Benigni (who, on a side note, is playing alongside his real life wife-person, making this whole thing all the more adorable) is flawlessly creating a romance which I feel we'll get to see blossom into something even more over the course of the rest of the film. That said, I've already been warned, by my dad no less, to keep tissues handy so I have the faintest of inklings that I'm not going to be quite as thankful for this exceptionally well constructed relationship later as I am right now. But that's then and this is now, so onwards we go.

Back to the plot, which is currently successfully hiding behind a duck/ostrich/goose/bird egg.
Ah, here we go. As we get deeper into the film, the shark lurking under the water finally surfaces. We are, of course, in 1939 Italy; we all know what is about to come, and Guido's charming naivete gives way to a jarring nosedive back to reality during an engagement party when Guido's uncle's horse is vandalised for him being a Jew. Things are about to go very wrong for any poor sod, including Guido himself, who happens to be Jewish. And yet, simply through his charm and wondrous lust for life, we think maybe, just maybe, it might all be OK.

When there's dogs and profiteroles on the same platter, how can things not be OK?
Flash forward a few years thanks to a spectacularly well done time jump involving a greenhouse and some suggested ejaculation and Guido is married with a charming young son (sorry, spoilers I guess, unless you've read any synopsis for this film). We begin to see the extent of the persecution of Guido's people in the country, but he tries his best to hide it from his son, explaining away the signs in shops that deny entry to Jews. Now I think this is the point at which, for the sake of not spoiling any more of the film, I will cease to talk about the plot and focus on the more technical aspects of the film; partially to keep the post well-rounded and fair and also to stop me from weeping inconsolably into the keyboard any more than I already am.

Adding Fairy liquid didn't help.
If there's one thing I would have to congratulate this film on, it would be it's very conservative use of non-diegetic sound (to those who didn't waste their high school life taking media, that means sound not actually found within a scene like a soundtrack, or dramatic BNYAWHHH noises). Most scenes are almost completely devoid of music or sound effects, grounding the film very firmly within reality and forcing the responsibility on Guido's shoulders to shield his son from the horrors occurring around him. When music is heard it perfectly suits the tone of the scene, heightening the impact of the moment but never outstaying its welcome. Also, is it just me or am I making more sense from a critical point of view than I normally do? I should drink copious quantities of gin whilst writing more often.

If it worked for Fagin's singing, it'll work for my writing.
The bright, vibrant colours of the film's first half give way to Iwo Jima levels of dank, bland greys and dirty blue. This is a film that has spent it's entire first half preparing to knock you over and even when you know it's coming you can't help but feel the wave of helplessness crashing down on you. And I think that's what makes Benigni's film so special; even though it follows an already very clearly drawn path that we all know so well (apart from a select few people, of course), your attachment to the utterly fabulous characters forces you to hope that they'll somehow be spared from a force you already know was so unstoppable, so ruthless, that they couldn't possibly have any chance of escape.

Like cheery fat people and McDonald's, but with Jews and Nazis.
Oh, OK, so the whole reviewing whilst watching the film thing kind of went out of the window. It ended a good ten minutes ago whilst I recovered from my veritable cascade of tears. Actually, mind if I take another couple of hours...

Reach here and you'll understand why...
There we go. All good now, minus mild water damage, so I'll finish up. This film is fabulous. Although there's nothing special cinematographically or artistically to be found besides a few choice shots that really excel at capturing their scene in a whole, this is a film that has managed to cram more love and devotion into two hours than anything that I've ever seen before and for that alone it should be congratulated. 

That said, this wouldn't be a fair review if it didn't have a little bit of criticism so I'll finish on a downer for once. My one qualm with this movie is that it tries to fit too much into it's second half; by spending so much time building up to the inevitable turn of events I almost feel like the obviously very heavy conclusion is done a disservice. This is as much a criticism as it is a compliment because the film's ending is so alien from the world you were introduced to that it's as devastating to watch from a completely aesthetic point of view as it is from a personal one, leading to a complete emotional breakdown no matter what. Actually scratch that last bad point from the record and instead I say bravo, Benigni, bravo; you have touched the heart of a person who considers himself untouchable. And for that, I thank you.

On a lighter (and completely inconsequential) note, that girl's mouth doesn't close for an entire scene.

Moustache Rating

The Salvador Dali - 
A moustache that, just by looking at it, lifts you up even though you know that the basic laws of the universe dictate that it should be going downwards. I mean, seriously man, how much 'tache-wax do you use?

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