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La vita e bella (about meaning)

La Vita à bella - Roberto Benigni & Giorgio Cantarini - 1997.

La vita e bella (about meaning)

Do you remember this movie? Do you remember how many people around the world were moved by this movie and how many people including myself discovered Roberto Benigni? If you haven’t seen the movie now would be a good time to see it. The movie is classified as a comedy-drama, comedy because of the acting of Roberto Benigni, drama because it takes place in one of the darkest hour of our history: World War II, in a Nazi concentration camp.

Why should you see this movie today ? Because it tells us about the seriousness of the situation and how one man decided to cope with it and shield his son from this horror through his extremely rich imagination. And if that is not a good reason to you, well the movie won around 50 international awards and 3 Oscars. So it makes it a must see in your « culture générale« .

What Roberto Benigni does in this movie to protect his son, probably also himself, is to imagine that what they are going through in the concentration camp is a game where you have to win points. Through the whole movie he comes up with all sorts of explanations around what is happening in order to preserve the innocence of his son, a child. Giosue, his son, ends up believing in that story which makes living in the camp more bearable.

This movie is about resilience, facing adversity in a resourceful way and perseverance. This movie is about the meaning you associate (and therefore you control) to what is happening and the strategies you deploy. Guido chooses the meaning of a game as his survival strategy to get his son through this. I insist, to get through this, not to permanently see it like that. Sometimes a short denial is what we need to get through adverse moments before we can really look at them for what they are and the emotions they generate in us.

This movie brings us inevitably to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning book published in 1946. Viktor Frankl is an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and father of the Logotherapy. He was also a holocaust survivor. According to Frankl, the prisoners who had the most chances of survival were the ones who could find a meaning in their lives.

Frankl was convinced that the prisoners who focused on the simple thought of wanting to see again a dear person, or to fulfill a mission with a sense of purpose were the only ones who could hold on to hope and make it through life afterwards. In the movie, the key to survival is to look at the pain, the suffering as a challenge to overcome.

Not so long ago, on Facebook and even on the news, there was a video circulating of a Syrian father, who would have his daughter laugh whenever a bomb would fall on the city. That’s how he shielded his daughter from the horror of the war.

I am always amazed about how much we can do for others, especially those we love and how sometimes it can be challenging to do the same for ourselves.

My favourite quote of Frankl is the following: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom » It has a become a guiding mantra in my life. This is also where values are important, they define that response. This doesn’t mean that if kindness is one of your values you should not have strong boundaries and accept poor behaviour.

We are in quarantine. In other pandemics of history, people in quarantine were kept outside the city, in a sort of camp one could say. We have the luxury, not all of us, but those who read me most likely do, to be in our homes, with food on our table, internet to watch movies or have house parties, post jokes on Facebook, choose valid information. We can see this as a punishment or we can choose to see this as an opportunity. Two very different meanings that will lead to two very different experiences.

Our luxury is the nightmare of others. I can’t help but think and feel for those who are suffering domestic violence and how this quarantine with all the uncertainty that goes with it is raising nervousness, violence and how some are suffering from that right now as I write. It brings sadness just thinking of it. Which brings me back to the gratitude I can have for my quarantine.

I have seen it as an opportunity since day 1. Does it mean it is always easy ? Hell no. But it is what is and when life gives you lemons all you can do is make lemonade, hopefully a good one. So, what meaning are you giving to your quarantine?

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