Study Guide

Life Is Beautiful Power

Power

GUIDO: Nice to meet you. I'm Prince Guido.

ELEONORA: Prince?

GUIDO: I'm a prince, I am. All this is mine. Here starts the prince's principate. I'll call this place Addis Ababa. I'll change it all. Out go the cows, in come the camels.

ELEONORA: Camels?

GUIDO: Even a few hippopotamus. I must go. I'm meeting with the princess.

Guido's no prince; he's a waiter. That's about as far on the social ladder from being a prince as you can get. He doesn't have the power to own a principate and fill it with hippos—which, just for the record, is a bad idea. But this is our first clue that Guido's power comes from his princely imagination.

GUIDO: I need your signature to open a bookstore.

SECRETARY: Mr. Rodolfo, I told him.

GUIDO: Just one 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.

We're getting flashbacks to the DMV? Bureaucracy is still alive and well (fortunately without Nazis, though). By the power of Greyskull, Rodolfo has some clout. As a government official, he has the ability to improve people's lives by, say, letting them open bookstores. Does he use this power for good? Nope!

LESSING: Urgent telegram. I must go to Berlin immediately. What are these flowers?

GUIDO: They're for your departure.

LESSING: I'll take just one. I'll take it to my wife: Guido's flower. 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.

In their relationship, Guido and Dr. Lessing appear to be equals. Sure, Dr. Lessing is a doctor and high-ranking official, while Guido's a waiter. But they manage to build a friendship based on mutual respect for the other's intelligence and culture. But can it survive the realities of their social differences? Stay tuned.

GUIDO: Everything is just fine. I'll pick it all up. I apologize.

[Dora goes under the table to meet Guido.]

GUIDO: Princess. You're here too?

[Dora kisses him.]

DORA: Take me away.

Guido may not be as powerful as Rodolfo, but his powers of imagination and charm are exactly what Dora needs. It's Guido one, Rodolfo zero in the final round of this dating game.

OFFICIAL: You have to come to the Prefect's.

GUIDO: Again?

JOSHUA: He already went.

OFFICIAL: Let's go.

GUIDO: Why?

[A man puts his cigarette out on Guido's bookstore window.]

GUIDO: Is that man with you?

OFFICIAL: Yes. Let's go.

Things have gotten worse. Before, Guido had little influence because he wasn't high on the social ladder. Now, he's been stripped of all power simply because he's a Jew.

JOSHUA: A man was crying. He said they make buttons and soap out of us.

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. Darn it all. Look! I just lost Giorgio. Does this look like a person?  Come on! They were teasing you, and you fell for it. What else did they tell you?

Here's a great example of the two types of power the film likes to contrast. On the one hand, we have the Nazis, who have the power of life or death over their Jewish prisoners. On the other hand, we have Guido's power of imagination, which he uses to hide the reality of the camp from his son.

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! A veterinarian friend of mine sent it to me from Vienna. I can't send him mine until I solve this one. I thought duck-billed platypus, but it doesn't go, "Cheep, cheep, cheep." A duck-billed platypus goes hiss, hiss, hiss. I translated it into Italian for you last night. Well, what do you say? Everything points to a duckling. Help me, Guido. For heaven's sake, help me. I can't even sleep.

At first, Dr. Lessing appears to have built a relationship of respect with Guido, but this scene shows the truth of the matter. Lessing has the power to save Guido's life, and he uses that power to force Guido to help him solve a riddle. Like most people with social or political power in the film, Dr. Lessing turns out to be self-interested, rather than selfless.

U.S. SOLDIER: You have no idea what I'm saying, do you?

Rolling up in a tank, the American soldier represents the new, benevolent, power structure. The Nazis are toast, the war's over, and Joshua thinks he's won a brand-new tank. Joshua's earnest belief that the tank is his shows that Guido's life-affirming powers of imagination were successful. He kept his son completely unaware of his powerlessness and the danger he was in.

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