The Book of Life
With a narrative style reminiscent of The Princess Bride and physical comedy that rivals the best of Charlie Chaplin, The Book of Life is a treat for audiences of all ages.
The film, written by, directed by, and starring Marco Lui, has the distinction of being the first foreign entry screened at the LDS Film Festival—and it has set the bar for future foreign film entries very, very high.
The plot is comparable to earlier Mormon classics such as Saturday’s Warrior and My Turn on Earth, with scenes of pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal life. Lui plays a young man who falls in love with Chiara, a beautiful pianist who never seems to smile. He makes it his pre-mortal life’s mission to make her laugh; a quest that continues on earth when he, now a religion teacher, joins the faculty of the school where Chiara teaches music. Through his antics he is finally able to coax a smile to her lips, but things are not quite what they seem.
Despite this rehashing of a familiar plotline, the comparison to early plan-of-salvation productions really ends there. The doctrine is a little shaky in some areas, but The Book of Life offers a fresh take on several eternal truths that will resonate with Mormons and non-Mormons alike.
Beneath the surface love story that serves to drive the plot are deeper elements that combine to create a richly layered film. Lui’s character works as the professor of religion in the small school, and the film highlights several of the lessons he gives to his students. Mormon audience members may recognize allegories and object lessons from primary lessons, yet these familiar scenes somehow translate to a much broader audience in The Book of Life. A segment where Lui describes the elements of the soul as body and spirit using a glove for a prop is a textbook LDS object lesson, but the idea is presented so simply and beautifully it seems accessible to any viewer.
Then there is the matter of the cinematography.
Lui shot the entire production on location in Italy on an extremely tight schedule of only three weeks, yet the movie doesn’t play that way at all. The shots are rich and varied, and the lighting is fantastic. The pacing doesn’t feel rushed, and is perhaps even a bit too slow in parts. I only wished I spoke Italian so I could spend less time reading the subtitles and more time soaking in the beauty of the film.
It’s undeniable that Marco Lui carries this film. His superb acting provides nearly all the comedic moments, but he is also the heart of the picture, and it is his testimony on which it is based.
Several other actors give fantastic performances as well, most notably Alice Rosolino, the famous Italian child singer who plays Chiara’s precocious niece and a student in Lui’s classroom. Her bold manner and contagious enthusiasm for life serve well to draw the viewer’s interest.
Lui funded the The Book of Life completely out of pocket, and it is obvious this beautiful piece of art was truly a labor of love. ❧