After watching Roberto Benigni's latest misfire, Judge Roy Hrab is wondering WWJBGW: What Would Judge Bill Gibron Write?
"If only you knew what I have inside of me, fleets of minesweepers dropping depth-charges into my chest, torpedoing my thorax, circumnavigating my heart."
The Tiger And The Snow is a movie with a promising start. This does not last. Before long the film begins to stretch the limits of credibility. Not long after it breaks the plausibility boundary. It doesn't stop there. It goes on to pulverize the remains into a fine powder that is rubbed with glee by Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) into the eyes of those watching this preposterous motion picture. The film aspires to be a modern retelling of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. However, unlike the original myth, this story: (1) has a happy ending; (2) uses Iraq to fill in for the underworld; and, (3) will never be mistaken for a classic.
Facts of the Case
Attilio (Benigni) is a poet and college lecturer. Every night he dreams of marrying Vittoria (Nicoletta Braschi, Life Is Beautiful) in a ceremony featuring Tom Waits (Coffee And Cigarettes) as the wedding singer. Attilio runs into Vittoria at a poetry reading by his friend, Fuad (Jean Reno, Leon: The Professional), an Iraqi poet about whom Vittoria is writing a biography. Attilio tries to court her, but she rejects him. One night Attilio receives a phone call from Fuad with grave news: while working on the book in Baghdad, Vittoria has been critically injured by an explosion. Attilio leaves immediately for the war-torn country to do anything and everything it takes save the woman he loves.
In his scathing review of Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio Judge Bill Gibron wrote "One hates to be brash about it, but just what in the hell happened to Roberto Benigni?" The question remains unanswered. The Tiger And The Snow does not give us any insight into what has happened to the creator of two genuinely enjoyable and popular comedies: Johnny Stecchino and The Monster. Bill went on to state further "Where does Benigni go from here? What's his next miscalculated step along the path to universal revilement and hatred?" Well, that misstep has arrived.
I don't know exactly when The Tiger And The Snow goes off the rails completely, but I believe that things irreversibly begin to go downhill when Attilio dreams that Vittoria is a kangaroo. Up until then, the movie is tolerable. In the early going, Benigni does a solid job of presenting Attilio as a good, albeit scatterbrained, man. He accomplishes this by presenting Attilio having heart-to-heart discussions with his two daughters and giving a very enthusiastic lecture to the students of his poetry class. The problem is that this takes us only about 15 minutes into the film, leaving 95 minutes for the story to disintegrate into an increasingly irritating and ridiculous series of events.
The fatal flaw of this film is that nothing is taken seriously except the "power of love." The only thing that matters is showing the lengths to which Attilio will go to save Vittoria. All other serious matters are ignored or dropped quickly. There are other people, aside from Vittoria, suffering from injuries in the Baghdad hospital, but there is barely a glimpse of them and their pain. The film takes no real stand on the war, except for brief comments on Saddam Hussein's regime and some generalities about war. Why make a point of setting the story in Iraq if the war plays no role in the narrative? Any other location in the world could have been used without any loss of meaning. More bizarre, there is a suicide that is shrugged-off without explanation. What purpose does that serve? Ignoring such events does not highlight the power of love. It simply makes the film shallow and absurd.
Over and over again, scenes that should be played straight are used as an opportunity for Benigni to engage in his increasingly annoying shtick. Unfortunately, the cheap slapstick humour isn't funny, unless you consider Benigni standing around in his underwear, getting caught up in the looting of a bazaar, running around a mine field, riding a camel or shouting "I am Italian!" repeatedly while staring down the barrel of machine gun after being mistaken for a suicide bomber to represent high water marks of comedy.
The final insult comes at the end. A twist is presented on the relationship between Vittoria and Attilio to explain why he goes to such great lengths to save her. In my opinion, even with this revelation, his obsessive behaviour in pursuing her, despite her rejection of his advances, is not different from that of a stalker.
The acting is handcuffed by the weak script. I find Benigni to be a likable actor, but his twitchy physical comedy routine is, for the most part, strained, forced and inappropriate here. Not much is required from Nicoletta Braschi because she spends most of the film unconscious; however, even when asked to emote, she cannot deliver the goods. Jean Reno is effective in his scenes and brings gravity to Fuad, but he is given little to do. Tom Waits does a fine job of playing himself.
Technically, the film is fine. The Dolby Digital sound is clear as is the video transfer. Sadly, there is no English language dub to comment on.
The extras are pedestrian, consisting of deleted scenes, a "Making of" featurette, and promotional interviews with Benigni and Braschi. The deleted scenes are not interesting. The featurette is a puff piece. The interviews are not memorable. It is worth mentioning that in his interview, Benigni reveals that he began writing The Tiger And The Snow before the Iraq war started and that the love story was set in Iraq only because he couldn't stop thinking of the war. I think the film would have turned out better if Benigni had stuck with his original plan (whatever that may have been), or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have no doubt that some will like The Tiger And The Snow despite its trivialization of war and gaps in logic. I see fans of this movie fitting into three categories: (1) those who believe Benigni can do no wrong; (2) those who love Life Is Beautiful; and, (3) hopeless romantics.
Stay away from this mess, unless you fit into the categories above. The only thing left for me to do is repeat Judge Gibron's question: "Where does Benigni go from here? What's his next miscalculated step along the path to universal revilement and hatred?" Only time will tell, Bill. Only time will tell.
The court finds Roberto Benigni guilty of making a ridiculous and tedious movie. The court further orders that he return to his comedic roots before making another film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
• Deleted Scenes
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