There's really no way to adequately describe the deftly accomplished Life Is Beautiful without making it sound silly, if not altogether tasteless. Roberto Benigni, Italy's king of slapstick, plays a well-meaning father in Nazi-occupied Italy who, after his family is sent to a concentration camp, convinces his young son that the Holocaust is just a game. Mixing humor and the Holocaust isn't anything new: Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be is just one enduring classic; Mel Brooks' The Producers is another. Yet Benigni's film is monumental in a way that overt masterpieces such as Schindler's List could never be. Hannah Arendt famously wrote of the banality of the Holocaust, of how the ultimate horror of Hitler's final solution was really the whole bureaucratic process of convincing the Jews that they had no hope. In a sense, the Holocaust was the ultimate surreal event, a horror so unspeakable that 50 years and millions of deaths later, it still seems impossible. Benigni, who also co-wrote and directed Life Is Beautiful, brilliantly captures the inherent weirdness of sheer evil by making the viewer laugh in the midst of terror. The film begins innocently enough as a romantic farce that unites Benigni with his real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi. Colorful like a big-budget musical, the film finds Benigni subverting his ideal vision with images of impending doom. At one point, he and Braschi ride through an ornate ballroom on horseback, but the horse has been painted green and defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti; the image is both beautiful and terrible, glamorous and queasy. Benigni then flashes forward a few years, and with little warning, Italian Jews are being rounded up and squeezed onto trains. Sensing his son's concern, Benigni invents a story that posits the death camps as a vacation resort, and the stern discipline of the Nazis as a test to determine the winner of an ongoing contest. What's so daring about Benigni's film is his implication that in a situation so dire, a little laughter literally can't hurt. The intricate rules of his ever-changing game are nothing compared to the terrifying reality of the death camps, and if everyone is going to die anyway, why not try to save his son's spirit, if not his life? The concept is not so much nihilistic as it is realistic, and the fact that Benigni has made such fine distinctions so powerfully clear is amazing and moving.