Life is Beautiful: Four Riddles, Three Answers
Journal of Modern Italian Studies
Four riddles occur in the dialogue of Roberto Benigni's 1998 film, La vita è bella ( Life Is Beautiful ). Solutions to the first three are provided almost as soon as they are uttered, but a fourth riddle, spoken at the film's climax, remains unanswered. Exploring possible meanings of the fourth riddle illuminates the film's meaning. Although the riddles may seem to be relatively unimportant bantering between two of the major characters (Guido, the Italian Jew, and Captain Lessing, a German Nazi officer and physician), they are critical to the unfolding of the plot and significant in the portrayal of the two characters who employ them. Most importantly, they act as condensed expressions of the film's themes, complementing and giving deep texture to its narrative expression of the same ideas. Through the riddles and other folk and children's genres - such as game and folktale - La vita è bella asserts not only that art helps us survive, but that the humblest art is the daily weapon against the most formidable attacks on the human spirit.
“Life is Beautiful: Four Riddles, Three Answers.” Journal of Modern Italian Studies 7(3) 2002:345-363