How to explain Guido? Good question.
He's a weird guy but also kind of an everyman. He works as a waiter but is incredibly intelligent…and a childish clown. He's not a fighter, but he's willing to stand up for those he loves against incredible odds.
He's also super, crazy, incredibly lucky.
Seriously, what are we supposed to do with all this? Well, if we had to focus Guido's hodgepodge of personality into a single phrase, we'd say he's a man who loves life and sees the incredible beauty and value in living it to the fullest.
The first half of the film sets this up. It's a classic rom-com formula: boy meets girl, girl's in love with a different dude, boy goes to extraordinary lengths to prove his love, boy and girl get together. And the rom-com is the perfect story structure to show how beautiful life can be.
After all, is life ever more beautiful than when you're in the throes of new love? Well, maybe when you're absolutely dominating the office March Madness pool. But other than that, definitely new love.
We see Guido's love of life and people all over the film's first half. Exhibit A is the scene where Dora falls out of the barn into his arms:
GUIDO: Good morning, Princess!
DORA: How frightening. I almost killed myself. Did I hurt you?
GUIDO: I've never been better. Do you always leave the house like this?
Notice how he just goes with the flow, makes a joke of the experience, and even takes the opportunity to flirt with Dora a little. (Hey, beautiful women don't literally fall into your arms every day, do they? Seriously, do they?)
Exhibit B is the scene where Guido and Ferruccio first arrive in the city. You can see how stoked they are, just wandering its streets and piazzas, enjoying their new home.
Guido's love of people goes hand in hand with his zeal for life. For example, he has very different political views from Oreste, who's a nationalist Nazi sympathizer, but he still manages to get along with him. In fact, the only person Guido doesn't get along with in the first half is Rodolfo.
In Guido's defense, it's real hard to make friends after stealing a man's fiancé and then accidently egging the guy.
Subtlety isn't something Guido is interested in when he sees something he wants:
GUIDO: Oh, uh…I forgot to tell you.
GUIDO: That I want to make love to you so badly…you would not believe how badly. Not just once but over and over. But I'd never admit it to anyone, most of all to you. They would have to torture me to make me admit it.
At this point, Dora hardly knows Guido, but that doesn't stop him from professing his love and lust. He's incapable of being inauthentic. This makes it even more heartbreaking when you think about what he had to suppress in order to keep Joshua in the dark about what was really happening in the camp.
In Shakespeare's plays, there's a tradition that the court jester or fool character is actually the smartest cat in the room. Using their quick wits and sly tongues, these professional clowns outsmart all the other characters, including those in high society who look down on them. Typically, they also teach valuable moral lessons through their playful antics and jokes.
There's the fool from King Lear, who's originally named the Fool. Then there's Feste from Twelfth Night and Puck from A Midsummer's Night's Dream. And we can now add Guido Orefice to this Shakespearean tradition.
We can tell Guido's quick-witted from the start. He's always closely watching what goes on around him, sizing up the situation and using it to his advantage.
We get a sense of just how intelligent he is in his first scene with Dr. Lessing. Walking up to Lessing's table, Guido promptly exclaims, "Obscurity." It's the answer to a riddle, and Lessing is impressed—Guido managed to solve it in five minutes, where it took the good doctor eight days.
Guido goes into super-Shakespeare fool mode when he visits the school to flirt with Dora. Pretending to be an official from the government, he's expected to deliver a race manifesto proclaiming that the Aryan race is superior to all others. Thinking quick, Guido goes for it:
GUIDO: Naturally! Our race is superior. I've just come from Rome, right this minute to come and tell you in order that you'll know, children, that our race is a superior one. I was chosen, I was, by racist Italian scientists in order to demonstrate how superior our race is. Why did they pick me, children? [Jumps up onto the table.] Must I tell you? Where can you find someone more handsome than me?
Since Guido's Jewish, he obviously doesn't buy this superior race argument. Rather than give a lecture, he uses humor to subversively deliver a counterargument.
Since race is based on external, immutable properties of a person, Guido uses his own body parts to show Italian superiority, specifically his left ear and his belly button. Of course, it's ridiculous to assume superiority based on a tight belly button, but that's really no different than making the same claim over skin color, eye color, or anything else.
That's the whole point—and like Shakespeare's fools, Guido never has to come out and say it because he's wrapped up his argument in a nice bit of stand-up comedy.
When the film's second half begins, Guido and Dora are married and have a son named Joshua. As they prepare for Joshua's sixth birthday, Guido and the boy are taken by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp; Dora insists on getting on the train, too, even though, as a non-Jew, she wouldn't have been deported. At the camp, Dora's separated from Guido and Joshua and sent to the women's side of the camp.
Thinking quickly, Guido decides to tell his son that the whole experience is a game. It'll be a tough game, but if they can earn 1,000 points, Joshua will win a tank. Joshua's pretty stoked about that, even if the place they have to play isn't too comfortable.
To keep up the façade, Guido must use his smarts and playfulness to convince Joshua that the horrible things he's seeing are either elaborate jokes, opponents' strategies, or a part of the game's rules. For example, when Joshua plays with the other children, they tell him there's no tank prize. Guido responds: "Did you fall for that? They're as sly as foxes. They want to beat you! Are you joking? There's no tank? Don't you believe them!"
In one heartbreaking example, Joshua hears a man crying that they make buttons and soap out of the prisoners. Guido tells him:
GUIDO: You fell for that? Again? I thought you were a sharp boy, cunning, intelligent. Buttons and soap out of people? That'll be the day. You believed that? Just imagine. Tomorrow morning, I wash my hands with Bartolomeo, a good scrub. Then I'll button up with Francesco. Oh. [A button pops off.] Darn it all. Look! I just lost Giorgio.
In this scene particularly, you can see the stress Guido's enduring to keep up the façade while also living with the reality of the camp himself. He knows they could both die at any moment.
So what's going on here? Simply put, Guido's trying to protect his son. However, this isn't the type of movie where a lone hero can fight off the Nazi army with only his fists and grit. Even if it were, Guido isn't packing a rockin' haymaker anyway.
Instead, he protects his son with the only weapons available to him: comedy and wits (source). The same gifts he used to earn Dora's love he now turns into weapons of private rebellion against the Nazis. While the Nazis want to break his son's spirit before killing him, Guido does all he can to keep his son safe and his spirit innocent.
Guido's story may seem like two separate tales told in a single movie.
But the connective tissue between the two together is Guido's love of life.
In the first half, Guido uses his love of life to reinvigorate Dora's; in the second half, he uses it to help his son stay hopeful and innocent in the face of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Unfortunately for Guido, things don't end as well for him in the war story half. With enemy forces closing in, the Nazis decide to abandon the camp and hide the evidence of their crimes, including killing the remaining prisoners.
Guido has Joshua hide in a box and tells his son that this is the final night of the game. If he can stay hidden, they win the game. Guido then goes to search the women's side of the camp for Dora, but he's caught by a Nazi guard.
The guard marches him past the box Joshua's hiding in, and Guido decides on one last act of comedic rebellion. Winking at Joshua, he does a silly goose step march, sharing one final laugh with his son.
It's all a game.
Except it isn't.
The guard returns alone from around the corner.
Think about it: Guido knows he's marching to his own death, but it's not what he's thinking about at that instant. He doesn't want his little boy to see him get shot, and everything he's been trying to do since arriving at the camp is about to be undone. So in his last moments, he keeps up a silly face and a playful demeanor for the sake of the child hiding inside the box.
Maybe Guido could have talked his way out of trouble yet again. But we'll never know. Instead of being concerned about his own life, he sacrifices it to save his son's innocence—and his life. And that's just about the biggest expression of love you can ever imagine.
As the final moments of the movie show us, little Joshua never realizes the truth. When he sees the tank of the liberating American forces, the boy's astounded and assumes it's the prize that his father promised. His final narrative line suggests that he only realized the truth of his situation later: "This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me."
The Nazis kill Guido. You might think he's lost his personal war, and in one sense you'd be right. But in a symbolic way, Guido's the winner here. He does what he hoped to do: not to save his own life but to save his family and protect his son.
When the Americans finally arrive to liberate the camp, Joshua still believes that love, actually, is all around us—er…life is beautiful.
Kids have it pretty good in movies.
The entire Goonies crew manages to survive a booby-trapped pirate cave crawling with hardened criminals. Short Round never once has a crazy cultist try to rip his heart out. And all of the kids from The Nightmare on Elm Street get good and murdered. (What? Don't think they were so lucky? Sure, they're dead, but now they don't have to be in any of those horrible sequels, do they?)
But perhaps the luckiest kid in movie history is Joshua (Giosué) Orefice.
Er, in a way.
Taken from his sixth birthday party by the Nazis, he's sent to a concentration camp with his family. Chances are that he'll be killed there (in reality, most young children were sent right to the gas chambers from the transports), but thanks to his father's quick thinking and a whole lot of luck, he manages to survive.
Luckier still, his father manages to hide the horrors of the extermination camp from him by pretending the whole affair is an elaborate, if difficult, game.
So give the circumstances…lucky. Even though the circumstances themselves are far from it.
It's clear from the get-go that Joshua adores his dad, and that the feeling's mutual. It's this total love and trust in Guido that lets Joshua go along with Guido's slightly altered version of the life-threatening reality that starts on his sixth birthday.
As a character, Joshua's pretty symbolic: he represents the joys of innocence and a hope to maintain that worldview in the face of reality's uglier aspects.
In the first half of the film, Guido has this innocence about him, too. We can see it in the scene where Eliseo attempts to explain that the racists in the Italian community will begin targeting him soon. Guido laughs this off:
GUIDO: With me? What could possibly happen to me? The worst they can do is undress me, paint me yellow, and write, "Achtung, Jewish waiter." [Laughs.] I didn't even know this horse was Jewish.
Thanks to his innocence, Guido enjoys a love of life and a hope for the future.
But Guido's innocence is destroyed in the concentration camp, where he sees exactly what they can do to him simply because he's Jewish. Not wanting his son to suffer the same fate, Guido quickly conceives of the game:
GUIDO: That's it! It's that game where…it's the game…we're all players. It's all organized. The game is the men are over here, the women are over there. Then there's the soldiers. They give us our schedule. It's hard, you know. It's not easy. If somebody makes a mistake, they get sent right home. That means you have to be very careful. But if you win, you get first prize!
JOSHUA: What's the prize?
GUIDO: Uh, first prize!
ELISEO: It's a tank.
What follows is a series of events where the reality of the concentration camp attempts to steal Joshua's innocence and hope, and Guido must quickly come up with some fantastical explanation for why things are the way they are.
When the German soldier explains the camp rules, Guido "translates" those rules to be in line with Joshua's imaginary game. When the camp guards order all children to the gas chambers to be killed, Guido creates a game of all-day hide-and-seek. And when the other kids tell Joshua the truth, Guido lies that it's their sneaky strategy to win.
Despite it all, Joshua manages to keep his innocence throughout the ordeal, believing his father's stories because he completely trusts and loves Guido.
Isn't life great before you learn to be cynical?
At one point, Joshua's childishness even saves his life. When the guards come to take all the children to the shower, Joshua, still imbued with his stubbornness, refuses and runs to the factory to find his father. Guido tells him to go take a shower, but Joshua refuses:
JOSHUA: I'm not going to.
GUIDO: Yes, go take a shower!
JOSHUA: What are you doing here?
GUIDO: We're making…a tank. We're building the tank. We're still working on the tracks. We're running slow. You can't stay here. Go take your shower.
JOSHUA: I don't want to.
GUIDO: You stubborn thing!
Here, an all-too familiar scene from childhood, a boy refusing to take his bath, is morphed into an act of rebellion. Joshua's refusal to take a shower is really a refusal to fall in line with the Nazi's plans. In keeping his son's innocence, Guido unknowingly prevents Nazis from succeeding in their goal (i.e., killing Joshua) since we learn later the showers are really the gas chambers.
Against all odds, Guido manages to keep the charade going until the night the Nazis decide to abandon the camp. Hiding his son in a box, Guido tells him the game is almost over:
GUIDO: They're looking for you. Just for you. All this is over you! You're the last one. The last one to find! They're even looking under the rocks. The game is over tomorrow. They'll give the award.
Guido then looks for Dora at the women's side of the camp, but he's caught and killed before finding her. As the soldier marches him to his death, they pass Joshua's hiding spot. Guido gives his son a final gift, one last laugh thanks to a silly march.
Joshua emerges from the box the next morning, just as the liberating American army rolls up in a tank. Of course, Joshua doesn't realize the truth; he thinks he's won the tank. We can tell he hasn't realized the truth as he exclaims to his mother, "A thousand points to laugh like crazy about! We came in first! We're taking the tank home! We won!"
His beloved dad was right after all.
This final line of the film lets us know that Guido succeeded in his goal. Joshua kept his life, his innocence, and his hope in the future—all of which the Nazis attempted to take from him. As a result, Joshua continues to harbor that love of life that we saw in Guido during the movie's first half. Together, Guido and his son defeated the Nazis.
Buckle up, buttercup.
To properly discuss Dora's character, we're going deep into rom-com territory, a place so sugary sweet that it makes Candy Land look like a well-balanced dietary romp. But we have to go there: in the film's first half, Dora serves mainly as the love interest character.
Even if you've only seen a rom-com in passing, you know what to expect here. She starts the film with a "meet cute," in which she literally falls into Guido's arms from out of a barn. During this scene, we get to see a bit of her personality. She's kind and good-natured when it comes to Guido's clownishness. She's also generous, offering to repay him for helping her defy gravity's plans.
Later, we learn Dora's dating Rodolfo, that jerk from town hall who refused to sign Guido's application to open a bookstore. Here, she exhibits another trait for the rom-com love interest: She's dating the wrong guy.
How do we know he's the wrong guy for her? This question gets us to the core of Dora's character, and the reason we know she and Guido will end up together forever. The answer: She has a love of life and all its beauty. Guido also exhibits this trait; Rodolfo, eh, not so much.
We can tell this about Rodolfo after he and Dora leave the opera.
DORA: Can we get a chocolate ice cream?
RODOLFO: Yes, but we'll have to be quick.
RODOLFO: We have to be at the Prefect's at eight. We were invited to dinner.
RODOLFO: At the Prefect's.
DORA: Have pity on me, Lord. Let it not be true. Another dinner at the Prefect's?
Dora wants to go out, have fun, and do something childish like enjoy a late-night ice cream. Rodolfo would rather go to a boring dinner at the boring Prefect's house to help his boring career.
Guido, on the other hand, openly invites the idea of going to get ice cream. Both Dora and her would-be love exhibit a love of childlike behaviors and wonder—a characteristic the film uses to link them to their son and all people who have a zest for life.
Granted, in true rom-com fashion, Guido's methods of winning Dora's love are a little, um, stalker-y. Following her around, asking her on dates while she's at work, kidnapping her in his car and driving off. Yeah, in real life, these are not the ways to a woman's heart.
But in the context of this film, these actions show Dora and Guido as compatible. Both enjoy the adventures life can bring with a dash of spontaneity and luck to flavor.
In the end, Dora chooses Guido as her life love (again, rom-com formula for the win). At her engagement party, she starts to see Rodolfo for what he really is—an uncaring socialite. She crawls under the table (again, notice the childish behavior being equated with a love of life) and asks Guido to take her away.
And he does.
Sure, he's on a horse spray-painted green, but you work with what you've got. Riding off together, the two live happily ever after.
Well, in a traditional rom-com, it totally would be happily ever after. But Life Is Beautiful still has a whole other half to go.
Years later, Dora and Guido are married, and they have a son named Joshua. During Joshua's birthday party, government officials come to take Guido, Joshua, and Eliseo away to the concentration camp. Rushing to the train station before they're deported, Dora argues with the commanding officer that there's been some kind of mistake:
DORA: My husband and son are on that train.
OFFICER: What's your husband's name?
DORA: Guido Orefice.
OFFICER: Joshua Orefice…and Eliseo Orefice are on that train, too. There's no mistake.
DORA: I want to get on that train too.
In this scene, we see the other side of Dora's character. Not only does she play the love interest—she represents love itself. In the first half, it was Guido's romantic love and a love of life. Here, Dora pivots to represent the love of family, and she uses that devotion as an act of sacrifice and rebellion against the tyranny of the Nazi agenda.
Think about it: she doesn't have to get on that train. As a gentile Italian citizen, she's protected from being deported. In fact, her getting on that train really doesn't do anything substantial, since she's separated from her family as soon as they arrive.
But out of love, a desire to keep her family together, and an act of protest against the injustice she's witnessing, she chooses to get on the train. It's a powerful moment.
For the rest of the film, we don't see much of Dora. We check in with her occasionally as Guido finds inventive ways to send his love to her by way of intercom and phonograph. But at the very end of the film, her sacrifice pays off as she's reunited with her beloved son.
Dora doesn't know yet what Guido did to keep Joshua alive and hopeful. But we don't think she'll be surprised when she finds out.
Zio Eliseo is like a Bach composition that's taken human form: he's a classic and will remain so until the end of time. (Think the Cello Suites more than Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. That last one is way too vampire.)
The maître d' of a local hotel, Eliseo is a man interested in everything life has to offer him. How can we tell? Just look at the stuff he keeps in his storage house: everything from books to art to this newfangled thing called a bike.
Not that those things will ever catch on, but he gave the hobby a go, at least.
When he's not helping people at the hotel, Eliseo's role is to be a mentor figure to his nephew, Guido. When Guido takes a job as a waiter, he isn't too good. Like at all. He can't remember how to serve lobster or wait on guests or how low to bow. This last one forces Eliseo to bust out a lesson on what it means to serve others:
ELISEO: Think of a sunflower. They bow to the sun. But if you see some that are too bowed down, it means they're dead! You're serving. You're not a servant. Serving is a supreme art.
This nicely sums up Eliseo's philosophy of life. He's not there to be a servant to others (i.e., to see himself as less than they are). Instead, he's there to help his brothers and sisters in humanity, to make their lives better or easier or more fruitful in whatever way he can.
Unfortunately, this kind old man is also the victim of anti-Jewish prejudices. Twice, we see him attacked by "barbarians" who beat him up simply because he's Jewish. This leads him to give Guido a second life lesson: "You'll have to get used to it, Guido. They'll start with you, too."
Guido brushes these sagacious words aside, but they prove prophetic later in the film when Guido, Joshua, and Eliseo are taken from their home to be sent to a concentration camp.
At the camp, Eliseo's pulled aside to be executed in the gas chamber along with the other elderly arrivals. On the way, a woman guard trips in front of him. Without a word or second thought, Eliseo offers to help her up.
It's a small, but powerful gesture. Despite all that the Nazis have done to him, Eliseo tries to help one of them, staying true to his philosophy. Not because he is a servant, but because he's a human being and feels the need to help a fellow human being.
In return, she stares at him with contempt.
Although she may not have appreciated it, we sure did. A man's got to have a code, and Eliseo stuck by his until the very end.
Riddle us this. Who's the worst doctor ever?
Why, it's Dr. Lessing of course.
Lessing works at the concentration camp, selecting prisoners who are too sick for work to be executed instead of, you know, treating them. It's called the Hippocratic Oath, Lessing. Look it up.
Despite his position at the camp, Guido initially sees Lessing as a friend and someone who might help his family through the ordeal.
Let's jump back to the film's first half to find out why.
When we first meet Dr. Lessing, Guido serves him dinner and successfully answers a riddle posed by the doctor: "The bigger it is, the less you see it." The answer: obscurity. Guido poses his own riddle, and Lessing instantly becomes obsessed with solving it. So obsessed, in fact, that he refuses to eat the dinner Guido's just brought him.
Later, Dr. Lessing is called back to Germany on business. As Guido says his goodbyes, we understand that the two formed a bond over their riddling escapades:
LESSING: I truly enjoyed myself with you. You're the most ingenious…waiter I've ever come across.
GUIDO: Thank you. You're the customer with the most culture I've ever served.
LESSING: Thank you.
And that's the last we see of Dr. Lessing until Guido's taken for a check-up at the concentration camp. There, Lessing recognizes Guido and sets it up so Guido can serve at a dinner for the camp officials. Guido hopes that Lessing will honor their friendship and help him and his family escape the camp.
At the dinner, we realize that Dr. Lessing's riddle obsession is the real reason for him singling out Guido, who, let's remember, is a riddle genius.
LESSING: So. Pay attention. "Fat, fat, ugly, ugly, all yellow in reality. If you ask me what I am, I answer, 'Cheep, cheep, cheep.' Walking along I go, 'Poopoo.' Who am I? Tell me true." A duckling, right? Is it a duckling? It's not! […] Help me, Guido. For heaven's sake, help me. I can't even sleep.
Guido just stares at Lessing in disbelief because…yeah, that's pretty unbelievable. All of the suffering he's endured, and this guy has the nerve to suggest his suffering at the hands of a riddle is equally horrible.
So, what are we to make of Lessing here? Aren't humans driven to help those who are suffering—for example, by providing relief aid during a crisis? Doctors even more so because, again, the Hippocratic Oath?
While there are several ways to dissect Lessing's character, we see him as a critique of people's tendencies toward self-absorption. Science has shown us that we're more likely to help people if we can relate to them. So the further a person is from us and our "in-group"—through geography or class or religion or race—the less likely we are to feel driven toward helping them (source).
Think of it like this: you may feel empathy if someone in your community was injured in a car accident, but you'd likely feel more empathy if it was a friend—and even more if it was a family member. In each case, your likelihood for helping that person grows the closer they are to you.
The Holocaust is an extreme example of this principle. Nazi propaganda defined Jewish people as less than human, even going so far as to classify them as vermin or a disease (source). In doing so, they diminished people's empathic response toward the Jewish plight by pushing them out of the in-group, i.e., the human race.
To Nazis, the Jewish people weren't even people.
Dr. Lessing shows us this human flaw in action and then magnifies it tenfold. For him, there's no one else who counts except… him. His own concerns are the end-all-be-all of his empathic response, and those concerns center on solving riddles.
In short, somebody needs a reality check and some theory of mind. Pronto.
You may not realize it, but you've meet Rodolfo before. He's your classic "wrong guy first" character. You know, that guy who shows up in every romantic comedy you've ever seen…ever.
If you're unfamiliar with the character type, let's break him down. This guy is handsome and rich, or he has a respectable middle-class job at least. He's charming, and everyone seems to like him. Naturally, our leading lady is into him. At first.
But then it starts to become clear that he's not the one for her. Maybe he has a major character flaw or the two don't see eye to eye on an important issue. Maybe there's just another guy out there who's a better fit.
Does Rodolfo meet these qualifications? You betcha. He's the head of the licensing department in the city, and handsome (if you're into that sort of thing). He's also well-to-do enough to afford box seats for the opera and receive invitations to dine at the Prefect's house. What's not to dig?
Uh, how about the fact that he's a jerk?
When we first meet him, he rudely ignores Guido's request for a signature:
RODOLFO: No, I can't. My substitute will be here in an hour. Ask him.
GUIDO: All I need is a signature.
RODOLFO: We close at one here.
GUIDO: It's ten to one.
RODOLFO: File a complaint.
Come on, Rodolfo. You have one job to do and that's to sign official documents. It doesn't even have to be a fancy signature. A scribble will do.
Okay, okay, so he's a bureaucrat—give him a break. Maybe this guy doesn't make good first impressions.
Unfortunately, he doesn't make positive second, third, or fourth impressions either. When we catch up with him at the theater, he promises to take Dora out for some chocolate ice cream, but then reneges on the promise when the Prefect shows up. Then at their engagement party, Rodolfo's friend Bruno whispers a little too loudly that Rodolfo frequents the local brothels.
And when the principal puts forward a math problem asking how much the state would save by eliminating undesired members of society, Rodolfo doesn't bat an eye:
RODOLFO: No, all it takes its multiplication. You said there are 300,000 cripples?
RODOLFO: 300,000 times four. If we killed them all, we'd save 1,200,000 marks a day.
PRINCIPAL: Exactly. Bravo!
Wow. Yeah, this was the comment that made Dora realize she just couldn't marry this guy. Well, that and the whole brothel thing.
In true rom-com fashion, Rodolfo is Guido's antithesis: the Darth Vader to his Luke Skywalker, the Joker to his Batman, the Daffy to his Bugs Bunny.
Guido has a love of life and wants to share that joy with Dora, but we never see Rodolfo really enjoy anything. He sidelines what Dora wants in order to go to dinner with the Prefect and, one can assume, better his place in the upper crust of society.
On the other hand, Guido doesn't have any desire to climb the social ladder at all; he just wants to make Dora happy and open a small bookstore.
Rodolfo also seems to take Dora's love as a given: "Dora and I were born on the same street. We went to school together, we had the same friends. Dora is the woman of my life, and I'm the man in her life; therefore, we've decided to get married within the year." It's just the way it should be, in his mind. But Guido tries to earn that love through grand gestures and minor kidnapping plots.
If there's one positive thing we can say about Rodolfo, it's...yeah, we got nothing. Sticking to the rom-com formula, Dora eventually figures out what a cad he is and decides to hook up with Guido. She rides off with Guido, and the last we see of Rodolfo, he literally has egg on his face.
Ferruccio, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. You're a true bro to Guido, and…oh, guess that's about it. One way. Elizabeth Browning would be sorely disappointed in our love-counting skills.
In our defense, Ferruccio's whole purpose in the movie is to be Guido's bro. He's a card-carrying member of the buddy archetype.
As the name suggests, the buddy's role is to buddy and buddy good. He or she is there to listen to the protagonist's problems, to help them win their true love's heart, and to offer comic relief when necessary. This character type is a staple of rom-coms, right up there with love at first sight and third-act misunderstandings.
Don't believe us? Let's count 'em down.
The list goes on and on.
How does Ferruccio manage to stack up? Pretty well. He goes along with Guido's schemes to win Dora's heart, even letting Guido borrow his car, which is wrecked in the process. Does this place a rift between the two? Nope. The next time we see Ferruccio, he's palling and goofing with Guido at Dora's engagement party.
Most importantly, Ferruccio introduces Guido to the concept of willpower: "Schopenhauer says that with willpower, you can do anything. 'I am what I want to be.'" Guido uses willpower to woo Dora and later protect his son in the concentration camp. In fact, after his last act of willpower—"telling" the dogs to get away from Joshua's hiding place—Guido thanks Ferruccio for the gift.
It's unclear what becomes of Ferruccio; he disappears from the second half of the film. With the rom-com portion complete, his buddy duties have come to an end. We can only hope he continues to write poetry, upholster furniture, and pull buddy duty for some other hopeless romantic. It is, after all, the reason we love this guy.
Dora's mother is, um, Dora's mother. Truth is, we spend so little time with her that we can't even refer to her by a proper name. Guess we could call her Joshua's grandmother, but that's just kicking the name can down the generational road, isn't it?
While we don't spend a lot of time with her or get a proper name, we do get a sense of her character. Dora and her mother don't get along, as evidenced by their little kerfuffle before the engagement party.
The reason for the argument? Dora's mother seems to want things for her daughter that Dora doesn't. In this case, Dora's a free-spirited girl, but her mother wants her to settle down. It's an old story.
During this argument, Dora's mother says, "If you don't get up immediately, I swear on your father's deathbed I'll never speak to you again. For the rest of my life!" One gets the sense that Dora's mother is the driving force behind Dora's marriage to Rodolfo.
Also, judging by the lavish house her late husband left her, we can surmise that Dora's mother is a socialite. This leads us to wonder if her desire to see Dora marry Rodolfo isn't part of a plan to keep Dora and the family connected to Italian high society.
During the film's second half, we learn that Dora's mother's threat almost came to pass. After Dora runs off with Guido, she and her mother become estranged for years—as evidenced by the fact that Joshua says he's never met his grandmother. But Dora's mother hatches a plan to get back into her daughter's life.
Grandchildren will do that to you.
When Guido's taken to the Prefect's house, he leaves Joshua to mind the bookstore, and Dora's mother comes in pretending to be a customer. She talks to Joshua for the first time, asking what he wants for his birthday and complimenting him on how clever he is. She then asks him to deliver a letter to his mother (at this point, Joshua, who really is a clever boy, figures out who she is).
We don't know what was written in that letter, but it must have been dynamite. Soon after, Dora and her mother are driving to Joshua's birthday party and clearly have made up.
Unfortunately, before Dora's mother can be properly introduced to her new family, she and Dora discover that Joshua, Guido, and Eliseo have been taken by the government and are to be sent to the concentration camp. That's the last we see of her.
We're betting she wishes she'd have come a few years sooner.
Bartolomeo and Vittorino are prisoners at the concentration camp, and they help Guido survive his ordeal there, showing solidarity in their suffering. Vittorino warns Guido that he must keep working or else the Nazis will kill him. Bartolomeo also provides Guido with advice and even helps hide Joshua from the Nazis.
We don't know what happens to Bartolomeo. He's last seen hunkering down while the Nazis purge the camp of the evidence to their crimes, gathering prisoners for execution or the death marches to follow. Whether he's found by the Nazis or exits the camp with the other survivors is never revealed.
Unfortunately, we know Vittorino's fate. After being taken to Dr. Lessing, Vittorino is deemed unfit to work and is executed with the other sickly prisoners. That's what the Nazis did to you when you outlived your usefulness.