This month I wanted to take a break from anything that was remotely serious and decided to watch the works of Italian comedian and director Roberto Benigni.. I had enjoyed his Academy award winning Life is Beautiful (though I must admit that the mixture of slapstick humor and the holocaust was not a perfect mix for me) and I wanted to see what else he had done.
The first film on the list The Monster tells the story of Loris a part time mannequin arranger full time mooch and squatter who do to a series of hilarious coincidences becomes the police’s number one suspect for an at large serial killer. In order to confirm this they recruit Jessica an attractive female officer played by Benigni’s wife, Nicoletta Braschi to go undercover as his room mate and a ridiculously over the top honeytrap.
This is all done as broad slapstick with Loris getting into one compromising and misunderstood situation after another. It is easy to see how Begini is frequently compared with Charlie Chaplain as he mooches his way through his day avoiding his apartment manager, stealing coffee and croissants at a cafe, and circumventing a department store’s alarms in a method that I can’t help wondering if it would actually work if I ever decided to take up shoplifting.
The next film The Tiger and Snow is a much more serious affair with Begin playing Attilio de Giovanni, a divorced father of two and professor of poetry. He falls in love with Vittoria a writer, once again played by (Nicoletta Braschi, who is works working with, Faud, an Iraqi poet played by Jean Reno. She joins him in returning to Bagdad just as the war breaks out.
A week later Attillo is told that Vitorria has been hurt badly and desperately goes to Iraq to help. From there he finds himself trying desperately to find medicine to save her in a bombed out Baghdad.
While Benigni gives a wonderful comic performance this is a much more restrained and lyrical film showing the horrors of the war. (I found a lot of reviews that were offended by the film’s treatment and implied criticism of the Iraq war, but frankly most of the time it was treated almost like a force of nature and an obstacle.) All of this is interspersed with a recurring dream sequence involving a surreal version of a wedding between Atillo and Vittoria which is continually interrupted with the bride turning into a kangaroo) And despite the drama it has it’s share of comedy, my favorite being a scene where a peace activist proclaims nobody has ever been hurt by throwing down a peace sign, only for it to hit Attilo.