Theatrical release: October 23, 1998.
Filmed on location in Italy. The first half of the film is set in Arezzo, the town where Roberto Benigni grew up.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL grossed more than $57 million at the domestic box office and $222 million worldwide. After its initial release, the film became the highest-grossing foreign film in the United States. (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON bested that in 2001.) LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL also became the second highest-grossing film in Italy, after TITANIC.
The idea for LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL began as an improvisation between Benigni and his coscreenwriter, Vincenzo Cerami. According to Benigni, he wanted to imagine his body in an "extreme situation."
Benigni's father, Luigi, was a farmer drafted into Mussolini's army. After Italy dropped out of the Axis coalition, Luigi was captured by the Nazis in Albania in 1943. He worked in a labor camp for two years. Later, when recounting his experiences to his children, he told the stories in a funny way. In an interview with Salon, Benigni said, "Like in my movie, my father was telling us like it was a fable. He was afraid to make us fearful. He was protecting us, like I am protecting the son in the movie, because this is the first instinct--to protect the son."
Giorgio Cantarini, who plays Benigni's son in the film, also appears briefly as the son of Maximus (Russell Crowe) in GLADIATOR.
Benigni's wife, Nicoletta Braschi, who has appeared in several movies with her husband, initially didn't want to participate in the project because she thought it might be too offensive. Concerned that the film might offend Holocaust survivors, Benigni consulted with a Jewish group in Milan before making the film. Marcello Pezzetti of the Center for Contemporary Hebrew Documentation served as a historical consultant. One recommendation they made was that the film be labeled a fable.
The film was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July 1998 and won the best Jewish experience prize. Benigni also received an award from the mayor of Jerusalem for futhering the understanding of Jewish history. Others, however, did not like the film's representation of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman created a cartoon in the New Yorker of a concentration camp victim holding an Oscar in a barb-wire cell; the caption of the cartoon read, "Be a part of history and the most successful foreign film of all time."
After accepting his Oscar for Best Actor, Benigni shouted, "I would like to be Jupiter and kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody!" He is the first Italian to win an Oscar for Best Actor. (Two Italian women have won for Best Actress: Sophia Loren in 1961 for TWO WOMEN and Anna Magnani in 1955 for THE ROSE TATTOO.) Benigni is also the first director in 50 years (since Laurence Olivier) to win a Best Actor Oscar under his own direction. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL is the first film since Z (1969) to be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film and the 12th Italian film to win for Best Foreign Film.
The number on Guido's prison uniform is the same number on the uniform of Chaplin's character in THE GREAT DICTATOR.
The tank is a reference to Ernest Lubitsch's film TO BE OR NOT TO BE, in which a man gives a little boy a tank as a gift.
Like his character in LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, Benigni enjoys riddles and linguistic games. As a child he excelled in ottava rima competitions, in which two people debate in the form of eight-line rhymes. Benigni is known to exchange verbal puzzles with the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco.
"There is an anecdote with Franz Kafka. Once a friend of his, Max Brod, invited him to sleep in his house. He didn't know the house so when he got there he went into the wrong room where Max's father was sleeping. And Kafka said to him, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb. Consider me a dream.' So consider this movie a dream. I don't want to bother anybody with this movie, it's just a dream."--Benigni, in an interview with the Guardian (11/7/1998)
Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film 1998
Cannes Jury Prize 1998
Academy Awards Best Actor 1998 Roberto Benigni Italian Actor/Director
Academy Awards Best Original Score 1998 Nicola Piovani Composer, FRED & GINGER (1986)