Cinema Paradiso (1988) Review

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Salvatore Di Vita a filmmaker recalls his childhood and teenage years where he fell in love with movies at the cinema in his small village along with the amazing friendship he shared with Alfredo the projectionist at the cinema.

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*Original Title – Nuovo Cinema Paradiso*

Cinema Paradiso is a truly outstanding, breathtaking, amazing, emotional, joyous film that is an ode to cinema. Everything about the film is so perfect I really don’t think I have seen a more beautiful film. From the incredible story, to the amazing acting performances and the gorgeous score from Ennio Morricone. Throughout the film I seriously felt like I could have just cried from start to finish. The best thing about that was that it was for so many different reasons, the amazing performances, the friendship, the tragic event, the love story, your home town, family and the true escapism of the cinema.

The opening of the film is in 1988 Rome, Salvatore Di Vita is a famous film director and when he returns home one evening his girlfriend informs him that his mother called to say that Alfredo had died. A friend from his childhood back in Sicily where he had not been back to for thirty years. We are then shown his story and the flashback form works in the most powerful manner.

Salvatore at eight years old only a few years after World War II is mischievous but very intelligent with the nickname Toto. He has just begun to discover the powerful nature of films and his love for them grows. He spends all of his free time in the movie house in the small village named Cinema Paradiso. This is how his friendship with Alfredo develops, he is a projectionist who loves the work he does and sometimes he let Toto watch from inside the projection booth. The local priest forbid any kissing scenes within the film, so within the booth the cut out parts from the films contain anything with kissing or deemed too romantic.

Upon watching Alfredo who he has a rather amusing relationship with he learns how to operate the projector. Helping him out against his will, he does not want Toto to have the same future as he did just working in the cinema. He wants him to follow his dreams and do more, he pretty much becomes a father to him when it is confirmed that his father was killed during the war. Something that is mentioned a lot to Toto is ensuring the film does not catch fire, this is something that goes wrong after he took some of the film home. I was not emotionally prepared for the big fire moment and it pushes the boundaries on your feelings for what has happened to Alfredo. He was left blind by the accident which was so tragic after an amazing evening when the projection was played to the crowd in the square on the wall of a house and the joy on his and Toto’s faces were something else.

This all shows how his love for film was embedded within him from an early age, Alfredo often talking in movie quotes as well. The posters and photos being around all of the time and losing yourself within a film. Especially within a small village during this time period, it highlights how important the cinema was to everyone. They could come inside, laugh, cry and shout out and they would forget all troubles.

The next stage of the flashback is around a decade later with Salvatore almost ready to leave school and still operating the projector. The scene changing from child to teen was an incredible moment with Alfredo using his touch on Toto’s face and it was an inspired and breathtaking way to change the age. This also sees Salvatore now starting to make his own films and getting used to using a home movie camera. Having to describe the scenes to Alfredo and when he will not answer one day he works out it has a girl in them. That girl being Elena, the daughter of a wealthy banker and it does not take long for him to fall in love with her. It was a very pure love in terms of it being his first and maybe only true love, which is something that is actually quite frightening isn’t it? That it might be the best you ever feel about someone and it didn’t actually last that long.

Inspired by a story told to him by Alfredo he attempts to get her to fall in love with him. Which he believes will never actually work and just when everything seems to be working out her father disapproves. This then leads into his compulsory military service where he writes many letters to Elena and they are all returned to him. When he gets home to Giancaldo this is when Alfredo really pushes him to take that step towards his destiny which means he should never return even to visit. This is so heartbreaking its even making me sad thinking about it all again. Alfredo meant it all for the best but it just hurt to think that Salvatore would no longer have his friend, guide and somewhat father in his life anymore.

This is when we meet the film full circle to the opening scene as for the first time in thirty years the now famous filmmaker will return home, before this he had obeyed Alfredo’s wishes but made the return for his funeral. Reuniting with his mother who is very proud of everything he has accomplished. He is also informed by Alfredo’s widow that he followed his career and had left an unlabelled film reel for him. The funeral is certainly an emotional return as he recognises faces and he fully realises why Alfredo wanted him to leave and cut contact. The Cinema Paradiso is due to be demolished in a few days and this is something that is truly upsetting and heartbreaking to witness. The place that brought so much joy to the people and village no longer needed, it shows how cinemas and these smaller theatres were just left abandoned.

Just when you think that the whole film could not have anything more amazing or beautiful, given the score that fits so perfectly with each moment. Giving you a chance to feel it in so many different ways, the visual cues along with the music was haunting, intense and on a truly different level. Then we get the final scene with that film reel, with the older Salvatore not really sure what he is about to watch. Then it starts and it’s so incredibly moving, the kissing scenes. All of them that they were not allowed to show! It was like he was transported back to that boy loving the cinema for the first time and it was magical.

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My love for cinema and films runs very deep and I think that certainly helped with how I felt watching this film, I cried many times and for all different reasons. I don’t really remember a time that has happened with a film, it is usually just for one reason. Either something incredibly sad or something very romantic and therefore soppy. This one was because it was all just so beautiful and lovely. With heartbreaking and heartwarming moments throughout, sometimes they even managed to do that at the same time. Was the fact it was in Italian a reason for it to be even more beautiful? It could well be.

The performances are outstanding and I feel that Salvatore Cascio who took on the child role could quite frankly be the greatest child performance of all time. He was unreal from start to finish, so pure and capturing so many emotions watching the screen. Worked very well with Philippe Noiret, who was certainly the heart and soul of the film. Found it very interesting that he filmed his role in his native language of French and then it was dubbed!

Marco Leonardi as the teenage role picked up very well where Cascio left off and was engaging as the young man falling in love for the very first time. Continuing to learn from his mentor and again having great chemistry with Noiret. Then we have Jacques Perrin as the adult successful man and his emotional in the closing scene is truly outstanding along with the return home. It is believable that these three are the same person and the character development due to past events still lives deep.

If you love going to the cinema and watching films then you will certainly feel so many emotions from this film, I am now left wishing that I had already seen this years ago so I could have watched it so many times already. A beautiful Italian film that deserved so much more than just the foreign language Oscar win.

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