Already celebrated at Cannes, this magnificent film bravely toys with the twins of dramatic presentation, comedy and tragedy. What is remarkable about this film is not just that one can laugh whilst knowing the inevitable tragic outcome, but that these conflicting emotions are delicately nursed through wonderful physical acting combined with witty dialogue. For this reason alone, allusions to Chaplin are unfair – Chaplin’s films didn’t, for the most, speak verbally.
These combinations, comedy/tragedy with physical/verbal dexterity are what make this film truly special. What is all the more impressive is that the wit of the film comes across even through translation. This film is the perhaps greatest reason to study Italian since Fellini.
Benigni is unparalleled in his comedic skills, and this is clearly a film to showcase his many talents. The slapstick of JOHNNY STECHINO his tempered by this celebration of the absurdity of the Holocaust. It is arguable that this is no less an appropriate response to the horrors of the Second World War then SCHINDLER’S LIST, this difference being that the comedic, absurdest film relies much less on shock to make its similar point.
This film, in lesser hands, could have been really, really bad. A ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ romp through fascist Italy starring Martin and Lewis comes to mind an a possible nightmare scenario. It is thus all the more remarkable that this little Italian clown has managed to make one of the most important and compelling statements about the Holocaust ever put on film.