leave a comment --Ken Fox
Leave it to Italian clown Roberto Benigni, whose LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL squeezed lemonade from the lemons of the Holocaust, to find the silver lining in the dark cloud of the war in Iraq. This cloying romantic comedy turns a worsening international crisis into yet another solipsistic expression of his deep, abiding love for his wife and favorite actress, Nicoletta Braschi. March, 2003: As the U.S. military prepares to shock-and-awe Sadaam Hussein out of power, manic Italian poet and university lecturer Attilio de Giovanni (Benigni) dreams of marrying wan writer Vittoria (Braschi), who in waking life wants nothing to do with him. Vittoria is preparing a biography of Attilio's good friend, the great Arab poet Fuad (Jean Reno); after 18 years in Parisian exile, Fuad is finally returning to his native Baghdad, and Vittoria intends to follow him so she can finish her book. One night, after the American bombs have begun falling on Baghdad, Attilio receives terrible news from Fuad: Vittoria has been badly hurt in an explosion and is dying in an ill-equipped Baghdad hospital. Desperate to reach his love before it's too late, Attilio sneaks into Iraq along with a team of Red Cross workers, whom he's somehow managed to convince he's a surgeon. When the medical convoy is ordered to turn around and head back to Basra, Attilio jumps ship and barrels into Baghdad in an abandoned bus. Fuad joins him on the outskirts of the city, and when they finally reach Vittoria, she's on death's doorstep. A doctor (Abdelhafid Metalsi) tells Attilio she's suffering from a cerebral edema, and that his hospital doesn't have the medication needed to save her life. Refusing to give up hope, Attilio sets out to save Vittoria's life, scouring the city — and soon the countryside — for glycerin, oxygen and an IV drip. Along the way, Attilio tiptoes across a minefield, has a comic encounter with a camel and is mistaken by U.S. troops for a suicide bomber. Aside from a few perfunctory remarks about the senselessness of war that have nothing to do with the situation in Iraq in 2003, this grating, mawkish comedy — and yes, it is a comedy — could be happening anywhere in the world where bombs are falling and medical supplies are scarce. Benigni can't even be bothered to get the chronology or the details of the American occupation right, and his keen visual sense isn't enough to save him: Benigni's artfully composed images are as empty as his political convictions. The only thing that comes across as at all sincere is his love for Braschi. And really, who cares?