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Escaping into song.

Author: Gerald A. DeLuca (italiangerry@gmail.com) from United States
28 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I enjoyed watching much of this amiable trifle from the late Italian fascist era. The film begins with the predicament of a young count (Alberto Rabagliati) contemplating suicide because of gambling debts and saved from his plan by a scientist professor who urges the man to postpone his decision and pays him to do so, money he further gambles away. The young man befriends a homeless man, spends the night in the rear of a truck with him, and wind up wandering off into the countryside together, singing cheerful songs along the way.

The two are hired as workers in a farm. Two sisters run the place, played by Maria Mercader and the inimitable Anna Magnani, seen here two years before her "Open City" role that brought her world attention. While Mercader does most of the work running the farm, Magnani is pursuing a vocation as a singer and to that end takes lessons from Carlo Campanini, who is secretly in love with her.

The most priceless moments in this harmless movie are when Magnani and Campanini sing with each other, or rather against each other since Campanini is a parody of an over-emoting hammy Italian crooner.

All turns out well in the end. People sing, have fun, run farms, engage in instant romances, and sing the title song "La vita è bella" or "Life is Beautiful." This movie proved a popular diversion in 1943, particularly in Rome when it played successfully during the Nazi occupation and served as a soothing bit of escape from the grim realities outside the cinema entrance.

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