Wednesday, March 29, 2006

TIGER & THE SNOW: Not-So-Beautiful Life Now

Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * 1/2
Benigni and camel
THE Tiger And The Snow is Roberto Benigni’s encore to his Oscar-winning comedy Life Is Beautiful of 1998. His Life Is Beautiful (or La Vita e Bella) won three Oscars and grossed US$224 million (RM850m) worldwide. If that is not enough to inspire an ‘encore’, then I don’t know what is.

To be sure, the Italian actor-director had followed up his Oscar triumph with a domestically-released Pinocchio but La Tigre e La Neve (its original name) is his real tryst into the international market. It even has French actor Jean Reno to add muscle to its European box-office stakes.In many ways, La Tigre is a recycled version of La Vita. While the latter dealt with parental love set against the harrowing events of a Nazi concentration camp, La Tigre is more like a patchwork love story set in the recent American-led invasion of Iraq.

Benigni plays Attilio de Giovanni, a wacky professor of poetry who is still very much in love with his ex-wife, Vittoria (Nicolletta Braschi again), after their divorce. This comedy is about Attilio’s attempts to win back Vittoria, a researcher and editor of a book by an Arab poet named Fuad (Reno). It is not clear why their marriage broke up but there are hints that Attilio’s colleague, a sexy teacher named Nancy (Emily Fox), could have been involved.

Things come to a head when Vittoria is badly injured in an explosion during her visit to Fuad in Baghdad which coincided with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. When Attilio learns about her predicament, he does all he can to get to that war-torn country, including masquerading as a Red Cross doctor.In Iraq, he finds his ex-wife in a coma — and he goes into a frenzy to get the medicine and care that she need to survive.

As usual, Benigni mixes slapstick and pathos in his gags and even throws in animals like camels, canaries and tigers. One gem has Attilio being mistaken for a suicide bomber by American soldiers at a blockade, while another has him caught in a minefield.A subplot about Attilio’s two daughters help to lend realism to the plot although their roles and background could have been better developed.

However, unlike in La Vita, this one looks like a series of sketches which are roughly sewn together to form a narrative.Vittoria’s feelings for Attilio, for example, are not properly explained — and Braschi (Benigni’s real-life wife) seems to have a wall-flower role beside the energetic and unabashed jester that is Benigni. Reno fares better in a straight role as an Arab who is very much affected by the invasion of his country by the Infidels. No, Benigni does not take sides in this ‘conflict’. He merely shows the absurdity of the situation and how it can affect a man’s devotion for his loved one. We only wish that it is more cohesive and less scatter-brained.


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