Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you find Roberto Benigni’s manic, manchild shtick to be charming. And perhaps you weren’t put off by the writer-director’s use of a 20th-century horror as fodder for cheap manipulation (the Holocaust, it is-ah so funny! and it is-ah so sad) in 1997’s Life Is Beautiful. Even you might question the purpose of Benigni’s new film. He plays a poet who pines for a woman (Braschi) who shows a complete lack of interest in him. Flimsy circumstances then force him to follow her to war-torn Iraq. What is he going to do there, you wonder?
Abso-fucking-lutely nothing, as it turns out. While this latest farce isn’t as offensive or exploitative as his earlier film, there’s nothing to suggest that Benigni views a bombed-out Baghdad as anything but a backdrop for his hyperglycemic slapstick. His antiwar statement? “Please, don’t ah-shoot me with your gun machine!” The homage to City Lights only confirms this movie’s Chaplin fixation, but the silent comedian would have used humor, pathos and the casualties of war to actually tackle complex issues of injustice and immorality. In Benigni’s mind, Iraq exists only to prove that he really, really loves a woman. We’ll be sure to pass that along to all those refugees, Roberto. (Opens Fri; Quad.) — David Fear