One strange cat, entirely out of his element

The Tiger and the Snow

on December 29, 2006 by Chad Greene
If the job of a poet is — as his character Attilio proclaims in The Tiger and the Snow — to find the exact word to make his own heart beat, and thus his audience's hearts beat, there is perhaps no actor less suited to portray one than Roberto Benigni.

As his performance in this romantic dramedy demonstrates, the Academy Award winner is no verbal sharp shooter; he is a machine gunner spraying all in his line of fire with word after word after word. No one is spared from his lethal loquaciousness — not the love of his life Vittoria (Braschi), lying comatose in a hospital overwhelmed by civilian casualties of the American invasion of Iraq, not his best friend Fuad (Reno), hanging dead from a tree after committing suicide in a Baghdad backyard.

What Benigni was able to do so improbably in a World War II concentration camp in his masterpiece Life Is Beautiful — find comedy — he is utterly unable to do in the shock-and-awed streets of Baghdad in the early days of Gulf War II.

After receiving one of those dreaded middle-of-the-night phone calls from Fuad informing him that Vittoria lies near death in the aftermath of a bombing, Attilio sneaks his way into Iraq with a Red Cross humanitarian mission — determined to scrape up the medicine and medical supplies needed to save her. He overcomes obstacle after obstacle after obstacle in his quest, but we never see Attilio expend enough effort to feel that he has done something spectacular enough to earn the movie's improbable outcome.

As Attilio points out: “Poets don't look, they see.” Although it's plain enough to see that he's no poet, Benigni didn't look hard nearly hard enough here. Distributor: Strand
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Jean Reno and Tom Waits
Director: Roberto Benigni
Screenwriter: Roberto Benigni and Vincenzo Cerami
Producer: Nicoletta Braschi
Genre: Romantic dramedy; Arabic-, English- and Italian-language, subtitled
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 115 min.
Release date: December 29, 2006 ltd

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