La Vita e Bella

(Life Is Beautiful)

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital Aurora
Year Released 1997 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time
111:36 minutes
(not 116 minutes as stated on packaging) 
Other Extras Biography - Cast
Main Menu Audio and Animation
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Roberto Benigni
Miramax Films
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Roberto Benigni
Nicoletta Braschi 
Case Some ghastly translucent plastic thing
RRP $34.95 Music Roberto Benigni (just kidding)
Nicola Piovani

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages Italian (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

The Film

    Like many people, the first time I heard about this film was when the 1999 Oscar nominations were announced. Amongst the plethora of nominations for Shakespeare In Love and Saving Private Ryan were no less than seven nominations for La Vita e Bella, including some of the real big ones like Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. Although not totally ignorant, I had to confess that I had no knowledge about the film nor its star and director at all. The next time that I heard about this film was the day after the Oscars when the newspaper prominently featured the rather exuberant acceptance speech of Roberto Benigni after picking up three of the Oscars for which the film was nominated, namely Best Actor, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Music, Original Dramatic Score. My interest in the film was further piqued by some great word of mouth recommendations, but I never had the opportunity to see the film theatrically. So, when the chance arose to grab a copy of the film for review, I jumped at it.

    In preparation for reviewing the disc, I indulged in my usual search of the Internet Movie Database details for the film. When checking out the awards and nominations for the film, I was astounded by the number of awards the film has won, including: Academy Awards, American Comedy Awards, Australian Film Institute Awards, British Academy Awards, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Cannes Film Festival Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Cesar Awards, David di Donatello Awards, European Film Awards and a whole bundle more. I started to get a little worried as the whole deal started to ring the old HYPE bells very heavily in the brain. So, the anticipation of finally getting to see the film was starting to get a little tempered, and I have to confess that when I pulled the disc out of the post pack it came in, I was more than a little worried. I was confronted by one of the absolute worst looking DVD cases that I have ever seen. Things were starting to get really bothersome. And so, with a little trepidation, I levered the DVD out of its case and put it into the player and pushed the play button. The result?

    In short, one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in watching films. Forget Shakespeare In Love and Saving Private Ryan, to my mind this film should have walked away with the Oscar for Best Picture, hands down. It is very rare that I do so, but straight after watching the film I was so moved that I had the need to watch the film again for the sheer enjoyment of it, immediately before sitting down to write this review. The cover blurb on this offering is one of those extremely rare instances where the person responsible was having an understatement day. "An extraordinary cinematic experience no one should miss" it says: I cannot do anything but wholeheartedly agree.

    Exactly where do you begin with the film? After all, this is an amazingly simple story, but one of immense power. Set in Italy in the immediate period before World War Two, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) is an ordinary man - a waiter - with extraordinary gifts. Having somewhat of a devil-may-care approach to life, he approaches most things with an exuberant spirit, immense humour and wonderful imagination. Whilst on his way to his uncle's house, he meets the beautiful Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) as she quite literally falls into his arms. Over a succession of subsequent meetings, which crystallize from unexpected surprises into intended meetings, he gradually wins his princess away from the man to whom she is betrothed. We now jump forward to the latter part of World War Two, and Guido and Dora are now married and have a young son, Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Unfortunately, Guido is an Italian Jew and is rounded up with his young son and marched away to a Nazi death camp. Unable to contemplate life without her husband, Dora follows and insists that she be put on the same train and the family heads off to what should be certain death by gassing. Guido uses his extraordinary capacity for imagination to keep his family alive during the trying days prior to the liberation of the camp by American forces. Anything more than this is going to give far too much of the film away, and this is a film that needs none of my completely inadequate words to describe it.

    So, we have a wonderfully simple story, notable for the fact that it was written by (you guessed it) Roberto Benigni in collaboration with Vincenzo Cerami. Wonderfully simple stories usually require something extra special in the way of performances to really make them work, and that is what we get here. You can broadly forget the rest of the cast - this film is Roberto Benigni's in every way. His performance transcends any sort of language limitations: this is a film that demands to be watched in the original Italian and you do not need to have the English subtitles on to understand what is going on. The film presents its story from start to finish in every nuance of the performance of Roberto Benigni, and to a lesser extent that of his real-life wife Nicoletta Braschi. His performance exudes charm, humour, fear, love and just about every emotion that you can imagine in the most convincing fashion that I can recall in recent films. Accompanying the fabulous acting performance is some wonderful directing from the man himself, as magnificently evidenced by the engaging performance drawn out of young Giorgio Cantarini, and the superbly unforced naturalness of the film. The magnificence of the performances and the direction is complemented by a wonderful choice of locations, and some quite wonderful cinematography. I could go on, but suffice it to say that there is absolutely nothing to complain about this film at all. This is especially so considering that this probably did not have anywhere near the sort of budget that was expended on Shakespeare In Love and Saving Private Ryan.

    I would urge all of you, including those people like my sister who cannot watch foreign language films with subtitles, to go out and indulge in this DVD. Life Is Beautiful is a stunning film in every respect and it jumps right to the top of my list for the release of the year.

Transfer Quality


    In short? Magnificent, let down by one instance of slightly noticeable aliasing. Roadshow Home Entertainment have been making great strides in the visual quality of their releases in recent months and this is a damn fine example of the art. Indeed, this effort just about convinces me that Columbia TriStar have lost their ranking as the best in Region 4 as far as video transfers go.

    This magnificent transfer is presented in one of the best-looking 1.78:1 aspect ratio efforts I have seen in quite a while. Naturally, it is 16x9 enhanced. From the opening scenes this transfer just exudes quality, in both definition and clarity. Apart from a couple of momentary lapses, which may be the result of inherent minor lapses in the original print, there is a wonderful definition throughout this film. This is a gorgeously sharp transfer in general and I was particularly impressed by the definition during what were the darker periods of the film, notably in the death camp. The arrival of the train in the death camp at night is especially stunning in its definition, and you would be hard-pressed to find much better films than this. Shadow detail was uniformly high throughout and again there is no better example here than the scenes in the death camp. As for clarity, this is definitely the clearest transfer I have seen this year. There did not appear to be any hint of grain at all in the transfer and any suggestion of low level noise in the transfer would be bordering on a joke. There is simply nothing to detract from the film itself at all in this transfer as far as noise is concerned.

    If vibrant transfers are your fetish, then you will love this effort. Whilst obviously the bulk of the film is set in the depressing confines of the death camp where bright colours are absolutely non-existent, there is a stunning vibrancy to the greys on offer. Indeed, this is such an exquisite transfer as far as colour definition is concerned that just about every prisoner's uniform has a distinctiveness of colouring to it, so that they almost seem to exude a similar sort of uniqueness to that which is discernible in a herd of zebra. When the colours do have a chance to be bright, during the earlier parts of the film, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they have been handled, not even with the grotesquely fluorescent green of the poor horse (don't ask!). This is a beautifully rendered colourscape that exudes a richness and purity of tone that is rarely seen in films from the production line called Hollywood. There is obviously no hint of oversaturation at all, and little indication anywhere of colour bleed.

    There is absolutely no hint of any MPEG artefacts here at all, and the only real complaint that I have at all regarding the video transfer is that there are a few extremely minor and completely non-distracting hints at aliasing early on during the film - at least until the 53:29 mark. At that point, there is a little bit of noticeable aliasing in the window frames of the building that is the only thing that in any way slightly detracts from the transfer, which is a great shame as it is the only thing that denies this transfer absolute reference standard, since there is to my recollection nothing by way of film artefacts to detract from the transfer here.

    Even though subtitles are quite a rarity still on Roadshow Home Entertainment releases, they are handled very well indeed here and are very legible.


    If you were looking for an audio demonstration DVD, then you probably would not be expecting to grab this effort, and in many respects rightly so as you will find nothing in the way of booming explosions or other traditional audio demonstration highlights here. However, in its own way this is an audio demonstration transfer. After all, to be able to handle the rapid fire Italian delivery of Roberto Benigni as flawlessly as it does means that the transfer has to be a damn good one.

    There are two audio tracks on the DVD; the original language Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and the somewhat controversial English dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I say controversial only because in the eyes of some the mere presence of this track is seen as a sacrilegious blasphemy upon the film. Having listened to the soundtrack, I have to say that there is nothing much wrong with the soundtrack per se, but it simply is not in the same league as the beautiful Italian soundtrack that really makes this film shine.

    In both soundtracks, the dialogue was always clear and very easy to understand, even in the most exuberant of Roberto Benigni's vocal escapades. Naturally the dubbed soundtrack suffers from the inherent sync problems of such soundtracks, but in this instance it does not appear to be as badly out of sync as one would expect! There was no suggestion of audio sync problems with the Italian soundtrack, although it has to be admitted that my Italian is so poor that I probably could not pick up if there was any minor sync problems.

    The original music score does not come from Roberto Benigni (probably one of the few things he did not do on this film), and rather is a superbly subtle effort from Nicola Piovani, that deservedly won the Oscar. There is a wonderful melody that runs throughout the film that hints at something sung by Andrea Boccelli and Sarah Brightman, and that is used to wonderful effect throughout the film. This is not a big, dynamic soundtrack and relies purely on subtlety to support the onscreen action. Having said that, you cannot say that this is a soundtrack that can be ignored, as you are always aware of the musical support throughout the film.

    The main feature of the Italian soundtrack is the nice presence of the vocal track, just a little forward in the mix but still quite natural. There is a quite nice subtlety in the front surround channel support, although not an awful lot in the rear channels. However, this is obviously a very dialogue-driven film and the lack of big rear channel support is not really noticed as you are engrossed in the film. The dubbed soundtrack is just a little less present in the vocal tracks and as a result is not quite so natural sounding. Both soundtracks offer nothing more than hints of bass support, which again suits the film well and makes the subtle use all the more welcome. The soundtracks are completely free of any distortion or other blemishes, and the Italian soundtrack in particular has a lovely bloom to the sound that really lets the vocals and music sing brightly in the overall mix. Overall, this is a quite wonderful, understated and subtle Italian soundtrack with some lovely presence to the vocals that overshadows the English dubbed soundtrack in every respect.


    This is the one area of this DVD that really does stand out in denying this entire package induction into the Hall Of Fame. Whilst appreciating that this is a single layer, single sided disc and therefore a 111 minute film would be pushing the limits of its capacity with the few extras that are on offer, there really is no reason why we could not get an RSDL formatted disc with a few more extras.


    The menu is an acceptably themed effort with some nice audio and animation enhancement, although it does seem to react slowly to the instructions from the remote control. As is quite common for Village Roadshow releases, the menus are 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer (2:06)

    This is very definitely the American theatrical trailer, as it is presented with a dubbed soundtrack. It is a nice enough effort, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Other Trailer

    This is mentioned only because it is the first time that I have seen the Dolby Digital Aurora trailer, a very subtle demonstration of Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. I am losing track of how many Dolby Digital trailers there are, but it is nice that Roadshow Home Entertainment maintain a variety in these presentations, unlike the boringly common effort from a certain other distributor.

Biography - Cast

    Well if you could read it, this would be a quite extensive look at Roberto Benigni, and no one else. The problem is that the lightish writing is hard to read against the white background. Still, if you do manage to read it, you would probably find it quite informative and quite reasonably detailed.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version misses out on:     The lack of 16x9 enhancement is a powerful inducement away from the Region 1 version, although it is a shame that we miss out on the featurette. Others will possibly disagree but I will take the 16x9 enhancement as opposed to the featurette. Region 4 wins again, but only by a small margin.


    A superb film, La Vita e Bella is a film that demands a place in your collection. From a technical point of view, this is very close to inclusion in the Hall of Fame, except for the lack of a decent extras package, and so good is the film and the transfer that I nearly decided to induct it anyway. The featurette would have helped but a commentary from Roberto Benigni would have been a treat I suspect. At the RRP of $34.95, this should move in large quantities.

    The video transfer is superb, let down by one minor lapse.

    The audio transfer is very good.

    The extras package is slightly disappointing.

    Just two things in closing, Roadshow Home Entertainment - please lose the appalling translucent plastic case that this DVD came in. It is an absolute shocker that really is very cheap looking, and was immediately replaced by a vastly superior Brackley case. There seems to be a general move towards the transparent Amaray case as a standard - why are you moving backwards to this awful effort? And the front cover banner stating "features exclusive to DVD" is in this instance perhaps just pushing things a little.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
10th June 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL