There is a very fine line that you walk when you try and make a comedy about the holocaust. Roberto Benigni walked that line with Life is Beautiful and never stepped wrong. He knew how to have the trickiest balance between humor and the darkest horror man has ever known. One can imagine a million ways in which Benigni’s lovely film could have gone wrong. But for an example of how it could fail in every way, there is Train of Life, a shameful excuse for a comedy in which the premise is intriguing, the script is embarrassing and the ending is a kick in the face.
Here is the intriguing premise: In 1941 the people of a small Jewish community become aware that Hitler is killing Jews in Europe. Fearing that they could be deported, they decide to fake their own deportation by stealing a train, making Nazi uniforms and heading for Pakistan, thereby deceiving the Nazi and saving their lives. That’s a story worth telling, but it needs to be handled with kid gloves.
Instead Train of Life is handled with boxing gloves. The embarrassing script gives us a cast of cartoonish characters who spend 90% of the film squabbling. There is no tension in the scenes where the train in stopped by the Nazis because the Nazis in this film are so dimwitted that they would fall for anything! Now for the ending: The ending (which I won’t give away) I suppose is supposed to be poignant or funny or touching but found it to be shameful. With so many denying that the holocaust ever happened, we don’t need a film this trite. The movie takes the holocause and grinds it down to a painfully unfunny sitcom.