The tiger and the snow), a comedy about poetry set during the recent American-
led invasion of Iraq. Though very much in the vein of ‘La vita è bella’ in its
combination of the horrors of war as a backdrop for comedy, Benigni never quite
reaches that brilliance or tight narrative with his new offering and people who may
have seen the WWII film recently may recognise so much of his shtick that ‘La
tigre e la neve’ could feel rather uncreative or even repetitive. For those who
have not visited ‘La vita è bella’ since it came out and for all true Benigni fans,
this new film offers a good deal of chuckles as well as an excellent supporting turn
from French thespian Jean Reno as the Arab poet Fuad.
Benigni’s real-life spouse, actress Nicoletta Braschi (who starred as his
second wife in La vita è bella) again stars as his object of affection, though this
time around her character Vittoria, an editor of Fuad’s poetry, seems less
interested and more annoyed by Benigni than in any of her previous incarnations.
If anything, Benigni’s character, the divorced poet and university professor Atillio
di Giovanni, could be considered a comic-poetic stalker since he keeps following
Vittoria around to convince her of his love for her -all the way to war-torn Iraq! In
a somewhat long first section set in Italy, he tries to woo Vittoria and gets some
unsuspected aid from his university colleague Nancy, with whom he has had a
one night stand in the past. In a not particularly original but nevertheless perfectly
choreographed and very funny scene, Atillio succeeds in bringing Vittoria to his
apartment and even keep her entertained for a while.
Atillio’s friendship and Vittoria’s working relationship with the Arab poet Fuad
takes the action to Iraq, where Vittoria has been badly hurt in an explosion on a
business visit to Fuad that coincided with the recent American-led invasion of the
country. Atillio succeeds in getting to Iraq by very dubious means; getting to a
country in which a war has just broken out cannot be resolved at a regular airport
as Atillio finds out. Once arrived, he will try to take care of Vittoria, who is in a very
bad condition, with the aid of Fuad. Hilarity ensues on several occasions, though
Benigni and co-writer Vincenzo Cerami never really reach the continuous
perfection of ‘La vita...’; here they have several excellent set pieces (involving
Atillio surviving a military blockade and a mine field for example) and are unable
to make them an integral and logical part of the film’s narrative. As a result the
stretches that connect one set piece to the next feel like roughly sown-on patches
on your favourite pair of dungarees.
Something which does work very well is the film’s occasional ventures into
darker territory, especially with the way Benigni and Reno deal with Fuad’s fate.
This somehow seems to redress the balance of the absurdity of making a comedy
set during the Iraqi invasion. This moment of sobriety gives the whole film less
whimsy and eventually more force than ‘La vita è bella’ had, at least in terms of
saying something about the human condition. While the film may ramble
somewhat when in Iraq, its closing scenes again set in Italy draw together all of
the narrative strands in a satisfying manner and even hold a few surprises.
Benigni thus seems to have re-invented himself in a mostly satisfying manner.
Despite a weaker overall narrative force in its middle section and without the
feeling that we are watching something new, 'La tigre e la neve' still works about
as well as we have come to expect from the Tuscan comic