Never has a film touched us the way this masterpiece did. You name the emotion, it seared right to the heart. From slapstick comedy to mistaken identities, from heartfelt love to lamentable sorrow, from intrigue to introspection, from hauntingly beautiful to the harrowing tragedy of the Holocaust. This movie had it all. "Life is Beautiful" paints a tableau of the survival of innocence in a world filled with horror. We had seen "Schindler's List" several years ago and the graphic violence and "preaching method" of Stephen Spielberg always left us with the feeling that we were "propagandized" and manipulated. We all know the Nazi holocaust was one of the most vile, worst tragedies to ever befall mankind, but that movie and many movies on that subject are written from the Jewish point of view that they were the only ones who suffered and we'll never know how much. Also, it seems they are intent on hammering it through unmercifully through graphic images and, in so doing through the celluloid avenue, manage to manipulate one to pattern one's thinking directly to their point of view, always instilling a guilt-complex on those who seemingly didn't stop it all immediately. This is the tired refrain we hear over and over in accusations against Pope Pius XII who has been so unfairly belittled without anyone providing one iota of evidence that his Holiness acted inappropriately. Happily, those who know, particularly influential Jewish luminaries, have come forward to substantiate Pius' innocence and, in fact, have provided proof that he did all in his power to help their cause, cleverly sheltering many from the Holocaust. As we all know, had he spoken out publicly and more forcefully at the time he would have endangered the lives of countless more millions. Discretion was the better part of valor and Pius was on top of it at all times, always extolling and encouraging human dignity. And so was the 47 year-old Benigni who used every second to portray the triumph of human dignity. As someone once said, "Physical suffering is horrible to watch and endure. But perhaps the greater horror is the callousness of average people who ignore or trivialize their neighbor's suffering." Well, Benigni and his co-writer Vincenzo Cerami didn't flinch in depicting this horror, but they did it without plastering the screen with sickening images that would shock. They reached the heart and soul with the minimum of shots, the minimum of shock; and yet one was shocked in a more profound way than in "Schindler's List". The topic and trials of Benigni's life and his dedication to protecting his family make this movie the most complete and heartrending film on the holocaust ever! This film goes right to the heart of the matter that no amount of evil can overcome if we persevere in holding out hope in the face of despair.
This movie exudes hope, love and triumph. It is the story of the Passion, Death and Resurrection. Just as Jesus touched us all, "Life is beautiful" echoes the trials Our Lord promised we would all encounter, but that we would be triumphant if we trusted and held out hope. This film touched every chord of emotion. We laughed...from chuckles to guffaws! We felt genuine anger and pathos, cried genuine tears of sorrow and then joy. Seldom has a film's title been so appropos for everything the Holy Father has been expressing in his encyclicals, Apostolic Exhortations and Letters, in his books and homilies speaks of the Sanctity of Life and this film truly sanctifies life. The Pope especially appreciated how Benigni used humor as an affirmation of human dignity. Outside of direct prayer, it was the kindest, most effective finite weapon possible in confronting the terror of the holocaust and those terrible times. The sacrifices Benigni made parallel the triumph of the human spirit exemplified by the early martyrs whose love was so great for Christ that they would give their lives. So also in this movie in which Guido Orifice, the character Benigni plays, is willing to put his life on the line to save his family, "Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15: 13).
This editor has always been considered pretty much a macho kind of person exhibiting very little schmaltz or sentimentality, but I can proudly say I shed more than a few tears over this movie; cleansing tears that we all need to let flow. You'll feel better about mankind and our own American roots after seeing this movie. Without giving away the plot, it is set in Italy at from the mid thirties in the time of the rise of Mussolini to the Nazi occupation and liberation by American GI's. There is no English until the last few minutes of the film. Everything is subtitled but we can guarantee you a few minutes into the film you'll follow along beautifully. If ever a picture deserved Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Writer, this is it. Benigni has been compared to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but honestly we have not seen the likes of this man nor the breadth of his ability and the mark he will leave on thespians and audiences everywhere in this century. Seldom has anyone ever captured the screen with the magnetism he propells onto the celluloid canvas of emotions. Almost immediately you unwittingly become him as you feel with him the joys, ecstasies and crosses that he encounters, never once expressing anything but hope and the highest echelon of human dignity as God intended. We've had a few opportunities to see various television interviews with this man and he'll win you over immediately. How many "celebrities" can you name who exude humility and genuine sincerity? We can think of one: Roberto Benigni. His supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at either. The love of his life that makes it so much more beautiful are Dora, played so convincingly by Nicoletta Braschi, who is, we understand, his real-life wife. She's not a raving Hollywood beauty but her radiance will enchant you. So also will the masterful performance by young Giorgio Cantarini. He can't be more than ten years old, if that, but he exhibits a talent far beyond the older veteran actors in America. He plays Guido and Dora's son Giosue. The rest of the supporting cast, whether "good" guys, rascals, or bad guys, are very good and complement the picture immensely.
We could go on and on raving about this masterpiece film that, we think, should be ranked with the likes of "Citizen Kane" and "Casablanca" as all-time great classics. Never has a movie said so much in so few words and simple images. Though we are not in the genre to recommend commercial movies in this column, we will make a definite exception in this case. In fact, we even think it would be alright to see during Lent for it will restrengthen your Lenten zeal. Do yourself a favor, share something very, very special with those you love and see this film. Never mind the subtitles, this movie reaches out and touches all through the international language of love!
While many thought he would re-enact reforms that would bring all back in line with the Church, he was a disappointment in the fact he feared the Council which declared they were more powerful than the Pope. Martin bought this and it haunted him throughout his fourteen year pontificate. Nevertheless, the Council had the same goals as the Pope so in this case it was beneficial to the Church. With their guidance, Martin restructured the Roman Curia, populating it with those who had been loyal to Rome and Avignon as well, but this still did not curtail many of the abuses within the ecclesial hierarchy. Martin published seven reforms on March 20, 1418 which dealt with papal taxation and the abuses most prevalent in papal terriotries. He set about to negotiate with the five nations individually concordats that would relax the taxes if these countries' leaders could assure they would uphold the papal rights to these territories and adhere to Church law. Through this painstaking, long process Martin was able to recover many of the provisions lost during the Great Schism that had lasted nearly forty years. During this time he had maintained residency and the papal headquarters in Constance because his chief rival was Braccione di Montone who steadfastly refused to give up central Italy as a Papal State. Martin moved on to Mantua and Florence for a year each before finally being able to enter Rome on September 28, 1420. Once back at the Vatican Martin set his sights on defeating Montone. To complement his military efforts he called on the Council to aid him, convoking a Council in 1423 at Siena, but a severe plague broke out and it had to be disbanded. At approximately the same time Benedict XIII had died and the four cardinals he had appointed in Spain chose a successor antipope as he had demanded. They chose Clement VIII. Martin offered full reconciliation to Clement and the other three cardinals if he would agree to abdicate, but, like Benedict, he refused. But he met his own fate because of his penchant for simony and would be deposed by his own cardinals who elected Benedict XIV on November 12, 1425 who was even less effective than his two predecessor antipopes. A year before that Martin finally defeated the upstart Italian Montone, known as the Lord of Perugia, at the Battle of L'Aquila. But his problems weren't over for a northern Italy revolt in Bologna threw that entire northern region into rebellion and disharmony. It wasn't until 1429 that Martin's armies were able to quell this riot. The victories enabled him to recover lost territories and treasures that rebuilt the papal coffers.
While militarily he was successful, pastorally he was mediocre. To his credit and through the prompting of Saint Bernadine of Siena he spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus by approving the cult begun by this Franciscan devoted to reform in the spirit of its founder. Martin also set about to reconstruct and renovate numerous churches as well as both religious and secular institutions in Rome that had fallen into disrepair. He sought the help of "starving artists" who were at the threshold of the Renaissance. Their work attests to their mastery and much of it still stands today as a tribute to the man some historians call the "Restorer of Rome." In fact, Martin was the first to inaugurate the opening of the "Holy Door" which was then at the Lateran Basilica.
Martin was a strict disciplinarian, keeping a close eye on the cardinals he had appointed and forcing them to live up to the high expectations he asked. But his problem was with those prelates who had already been set in place before his election. Many refused to go along with the reforms and he was powerless to prevent it, despite numerous proclamations and threats, due largely to the power the Council had wielded. In effect he was a "Paper Pope," writing many proclamations with no muscle. That was sad because he truly had intended to suppress those who were followers of the Bohemian reformer John Huss. He preached tolerance for the Jews regarding penalties on those who forced Jews to be baptized without full knowledge and commitment to the Catholic faith. He also launched a crusade against the Hussites, but the problems in the east where his failure to reunite Constantinople and Rome troubled him deeply and the tensions in England and France, where the 100 year was still in progress, prevented him from following through in suppressing the heretics. It was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation that would take full flight less than a century later.
As much as he wanted to evade facing another council, he had no choice but to submit to the the Council fathers. Martin, in one of his final acts, chose Cardinal Cesarini to oversee the Council of Basle on February 1, 1431. Historians say the Pope was treated as an equal and not afforded the dignity that should have been reserved for the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ for the Universal Church. The Council was, in effect, getting too big for their britches in believing their press clippings that they were superior to the successor of Peter. But before they could exact decisions, Martin died of apoplexy on February 20, 1431 three weeks after the council had convened. It would be left to his successor Pope Eugene IV to face the Council head-on in a battle for papal supremacy.
Next issue: Pope Eugene IV: Taking on the Council in a struggle to the end
But you do not possess His Peace because your faith is weak, shallow, sinking into the darkness of the evil one. Therefore, I solemnly tell you that now as never before you must pray from your heart. Beseech God to grant you strong faith. Beg of your Heavenly Father to give you absolute trust. And hunger in your prayers to be immersed in the furnace of Divine Love - the Sacred Heart of my Son Jesus.
Dear children, pray with me, for soon I shall not be among you as have been. Then must your faith be the anchor, the anchor formed by the Cross of my Divine Son.
O! Please convert your hearts. Turn away from the world and be silent and still. Empty yourself of self and God shall fill you with all good.
I love and bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!
O! With what Infinite Love does God look upon His children. With what Infinite sadness does He behold the hearts of stone that deny Him, hearts which defy Him, scorn and rebuke Him. Am I not the Mother of God? Did I not suffer the cruel Passion of my Divine Son in the Will of the Trinity that all mankind might be saved through the shedding of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ? Did I not see the lance cruelly pierce my Divine Son's Sacred Heart and see the last drops of blood and water flow from His side to give to the world Divine Mercy?
Will He, the Son of God and my Son find no one who will believe and be faithful witnesses? Will there be even one who will defend the Most Blessed Sacrament with his life, to give witness to my Divine Son's True Presence in this Sacrament?
I call all back to true and full reverence of my Divine Son in the Holy Eucharist, for this shall be your source of light, knowledge, food, strength and every good in the great chastisement and time of darkness. I plead for reverence, because satan wishes to destroy the Real Presence, to take my Divine Son from you.
Therefore, as my time among you comes to an end know that to all who truly believe in His Real Presence He shall allow Himself to be seen, and will make manifest His True Presence that the world may yet eat and drink from the Font of Mercy.
Therefore, pray and fast. Go to Holy Mass. Confess your sins and pray that my Heart may triumph sooner. I love and bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!