Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by Giuseppe Tornatore & Vanna Paoli

I would be the first to admit that in recent months both my interest and determination in watching films has waned a great deal. A lot probably has to do with my new job, but I will be darned if I didn’t pick the perfect film to bring me back in hopefully. Alright, alright, so I didn’t exactly pick it. A film that has been on my radar for some time, Cinema Paradiso is the favorite film of a new friend and as such, I was prompted to watch it at her request, a request I gladly accepted. Sometimes there is nothing better than a film full of heart, a film about the grandeur and allure of film, to bring you back home to the wonderful art of the moving picture.

Being of Sicilian decent, and proud of it, it was of no surprise that my friend’s favorite film was an Italian film. The protagonist, Salvatore, or Toto as he is affectionately called, is shown as a successful man living in a big city with a beautiful woman in his bed. But there seems to be something missing in his life which is evidenced even more when his girlfriend tells him his mother, whom he has not seen in 30 years, called to say that Alfredo has passed away. It is from there that we are treated to the story of a beautiful friendship lived out in a small Italian town between a young man and the local theater’s projectionist. A friendship full of adventure, comedy, drama, and of course, love.

As a film about the love of film, I was swept away by the variety of genre’s the film covers, an aspect of Forrest Gump that helps make it my favorite film. There is no denying my love of film knows no bounds in terms of genre, so when heartbreak is mixed with lighthearted comedy and lovely romance, I swoon., especially when done this well. Toto is the type of character who is easy to relate to: falling asleep as altar boy, sneaking into the theater to catch films before they are edited by the local priest, and being a trouble maker. He is not perfect, which is what makes him so charming. That and his huge smile. So it is no surprise that Alfredo, the projectionist, soon succumbs to his charm as well.

From a technical standpoint, this is not a film that was strong across the board, but instead one with a few aspects that made it greater than the sum of its parts. There was some nice cinematography, but nothing great, some nice acting, but nothing of note. The one main exception would be the music score by Ennio Morricone, a film composer who raises the polish, the effectiveness and the beauty of film with a single composed note. There is not a film I have seen that has included a score by Morricone which was not sweepingly beautiful in its score. The real revelation here is the story, and more importantly, the storytelling from writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore. What starts slow, builds to a soulful, heartbursting third act which is lifted by the subtle groundwork provided in the first two acts.

While I may call the beginning parts of the film slow, I would also have to call them crucial once the film concludes. Just as you have no recollection of your time as a baby, yet those times are vastly important to who you become as a person, so too is the structure of this film. Comparing it to memory is important too, because old Toto’s emotions are all triggered by memory: memory of his father, of the movies, of his love for Elena, and of course memories of Alfredo. We see Toto as an incomplete man in the present, lacking his mother, Alfredo and Elena in his life, but those times still remain, just as the memories do. We should be so fortunate to still hold the memories we do. You may be able to take the kisses out of the films, but the love remains as something no one can touch, it stays in our memories and in our hearts. And Toto loved his mother, Alfredo and Elena. He loved the movies and still does. This film is all the way sentimental, but that’s okay, because so am I.

***1/2 – Great

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