I was in awe of Roberto Begnigni’s beautiful, sad, funny interpretation of the Nazi invasion of Italy during the second World War, in which a romantic Jewish bookstore owner must come to terms with the inevitable separation from his prissy, but beautiful wife, a stereotypical and, at times lonely schoolteacher, and the growing pains of his little son, Joshua.
While incarcerated in the concentration camp the everpresent father makes every attempt to soothe his son’s fear of the Nazi’s and indulge him in a delightful boy’s own world which includes the promise of a real tank at the end of an arduous competition to survive in the harsh camp. He also makes every effort to communicate his love for his wife over a gramophone record which wails across the prison yard.
With ironic overtones, there are comic scenes aplenty, with my personal highlight being that of the affable father and lover’s roles as both interpreter for the German soldiers and waiter to the Italian bourgeoisie
There are also sombre and yet artistic presentations of the Nazi’s brutal anihilation of the Italian Jews. For me, it also brings to mind Giorio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi Contini’s which capture the mood of Italian Jews, already ghettoised by Mussolini, on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of their territories.
In this interpretation of the Holocaust, Begnigni skillfully adds humour and a touch of Italian charisma to lighten the load on a sombre reflection.