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Following on from my review of the fantastic Life is Beautiful film, I wanted to let you know about another excellent Italian film that I would never have chosen to watch had it not been for my degree.
Cinema Paradiso was made in 1988 and follows a film director who reminisces about his childhood at the Cinema Paradiso cinema with Alfredo, the projectionist. The film is in the main set in Salvatore's childhood and shows how his love for film began. Much like other Italian films, Cinema Paradiso follows relationships and shows the importance of making bonds and friendships. Salvatore and Alfredo treat each other like father and son while at the same time Alfredo teaches Salvatore how to become a projectionist and the skill that is required. This is a fascinating watch in itself, and I didn't realise the skill and danger required for traditional films with reels, in order for them to be shown to audiences.
The film is a celebration of cinema and makes many references to many famous films within it such as Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, Fury and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It also shows how the film industry has changed in a relatively short space of time.
The church is an extremely important part of Cinema Paradiso and shows how powerful it was in the censorship of cinema, with an interesting scene with a priest who insists on watching and censoring every single film brought into Cinema Paradiso much to the distaste of Alfredo who must cut the reels to take out the bits the priest doesn't approve of! Cinema Paradiso is often credited for the revival of Italian cinema which paved the way for the success of later films such as Life is Beautiful, so the fact that it is such a fantastic film is a bonus!
As if I didn't love this film enough, the fact that it is such an easy watch despite it being a subtitled film is a bonus as you can watch it easily. It obviously has hidden meanings within it as do most films, but you can see past them if you want an easy watch.
Children are always a popular theme within Italian films and are used a lot in this film. The young Toto (the nickname for Salvatore) is an outstanding actor and uses the directors vision to portray children's way of thinking excellently. The director wanted to show how the poor lived and by using children it emphasises the injustice more. Toto also comes across as being more knowledgeable and aware than some of the adults within it. This may have something to do with Toto learning the art of the projectionist but he is definitely treat with equality amongst his elders. This is lovely to watch and I could have spent hours watching how adults treat him like one of them.
This film doesn't have expensive special effects (or any really!), popular actors (there are a few - although these are interestingly French and not Italian - making this film a co-production), and nor is it full of sex or violence. It is simply a great film with good acting and a good story line. It is somehow enchanting but I'm not quite sure why. If you love films, you simply have to go to the movies with this film!
Interesting Fact: Giuseppe Tornatore's (the Director) intention was that this movie would serve as an obituary for the movie industry and traditional movie theatres (like the one on the film), but after the movie's success he never mentioned this again!
Release Date: 23 February 1990.
Run time: 155 minutes.
In a small Italian village, young boy Toto (Salvatore Cascio) has a passion of films and cinema. His enthusiasm drives him to work in a nearby cinema with Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) who, although slightly irritated by the boy's presence, learns to care for him and ends up working in harmony with him. As a teenager, Toto still has the naïve desire to work in the cinema forever with Alfredo. But Alfredo, who loves the boy too much, wants him to venture out into the world and fulfill bigger goals in life.
The film opens with a successful, grown-up Toto hearing the news of Alfredo's death. At this point in the film, we have no idea how much of an impact this Alfredo had on Toto's life. But as the film progresses, the various expressions of genuine love and care between the two are undeniably stirring. And yes, it's not the same kind of love people share with their wives/husbands/etc but it's the never altering platonic type that puts the "love" in modern romantic comedies to shame. The final scene showing us the final gesture of love and compassion by Alfredo is perfectly placed, and will most definitely leave some in tears.
There is absolutely nothing to fault in this film. The length, which may be off-putting for those who lack patience, has absolutely no bearing on the film's quality. Everything is so captivatingly beautiful that this almost 3-hour feature never even threatens to bore for a moment. The consistency of various excellent storylines is one of the many outstanding aspects of the film. As the main character ages, the events surrounding the different stages of his life are incredibly well written, with the perfect mix of drama and comedy.
As a cute little boy, Toto is full of energy, getting into trouble, full of unlimited, childish imagination and with cheeky little smile, has all sorts of adventures even in his restricted village. As a handsome teenager he has grown up and matured for sure, but his complete devotion and loyalty to Alfredo never diminishes and despite getting himself tangled up in some messy forbidden love situations, the relationship between the two men is never distanced.
The soundtrack makes this an even more enjoyable, moving and worthwhile experience. Composed by the great Ennio Morricone, the music goes stunningly well with the atmosphere of the film. Whether the mood is romantic or light, Morricone provides the appropriate and certainly memorable music. This fantastic score adds an extra level of emotional depth and connection into many key, important scenes. One of the most iconic scenes in the film involves a deep and meaningful kiss between the adolescent Toto with the girl of his dreams, Elena (Agnese Nano) on a rainy day as a declaration of love and its triumph, whilst Morricone's outstanding "Love Theme" plays in the background.
Never has there been more heartfelt, sincere acting from every member of the cast. Usually when it comes to young actors, critics tend to cut them some slack due to their immaturity and natural anxiety in front of the camera, but with "Cinema Paradiso," such lenience is not required. The young Salvatore Cascio steals the limelight with confidence and there is not a trace of forced or unnatural acting. The chemistry between Casio and Noiret is sensational and has got to be one of the greatest pairings that has ever occurred in the history of cinema. The cheeky boy going head-to-head with a fully-grown, serious and often grumpy old man is brilliantly portrayed by the outstanding leads.
Without a doubt one of the best films around, "Cinema Paradiso" quite justifiably manages to constantly secure a place in a lot of the "Best/Greatest Films of All Time" lists. Forget the usual classics that everyone is talking about: (films such as "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Godfather," and "Pulp Fiction" are pretty much always on everyone's favourite films of all time lists). Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with the previously listed films but it's a shame to see so many equally perfect if not better and more powerful foreign films such as this one overlooked by so many people. Try something new. This film will not disappoint.
Foreign language films are rarely top of my watch list although I have seen some cracking examples. Invariably those that I like tend to the arty side of cinema. Occasionally there'll be a foreign language breakthrough like Amelié which brings this genre to the attention of a wider audience whereas films such as Tous les Matins du Monde will remain forever in the background.
Cinema Paradiso is, however, a film that is both accessible and beautiful and cannot fail to be appreciated by anyone with a love of cinema. That it is subtitled is far from distracting, the photography taking care of the story for the most part and one is quickly subsumed into a world that is all encompassing.
Post-war Italy was a very different place to the society in which we live now. Cinema was true escapism and heavily censored by the church. The act of going to the cinema was akin to going to church with the same sense of occasion and importance. Through a series of flashbacks we follow the life journey of a young boy (Salvatore aka Toto) obsessed by the movies and the life that they breathe into the town. Cinema Paradiso is romantic without being soppy and manipulates the audience's emotion with complete disregard to decorum. There's a warmth to the film despite the audience's emotions going though the whole gamut of feelings; funny, sad, anger and love are all experienced and leave one feeling that this was indeed a clever film.
The plot is simplicity itself - a fly on the wall style reminiscence of a man who, as a boy, would abscond with the milk money in the hope of catching a moment on the screen. A boy who became obsessed with the cinema and who, in turn made it his life. The mystique of the cinema remains to this day and, for this reason alone I think the film works. We can all empathise with the feelings yet still know nothing of the circumstance.
The culmination of the story sees us torn between sadness and pure joy as some of the best cinematic moments of years gone by are played in succession, a very irreverent freeing of the soul.
The characterisation in the film is first class, the only weakness perhaps being the adult Salvatore (or Toto) with whom we get little opportunity to know. The direction and acting serve to draw the audience into the story and you genuinely feel part of the action. That you finish the film wondering just what has passed in the preceding 2 hours is, I think, testament to the quality of this piece of art.
The soundtrack for the film is superb. One would expect no less from cinematic giants Ennio and Andrea Morricone (more oft associated with the spaghetti Westerns). It serves to enhance rather than detract from the pictorial image.
Cinema Paradiso has been released in two formats, a shorter version used for the cinema and a longer "director's" version that is worth seeking out as it draws far more together in terms of the lost years over which we look.
For some this film might seem a tad too sentimental, to simplified in its look at life, for most I suspect, it will draw you in and delight. It's a picture of a regret which has as much relevance today as it would have had at the time. Grow with the film, be subsumed by it, and go away in peace...
... but don't switch off before the end of the very clever credits!
Italian with English Subtitles
Any film that wins 18 awards and 11 nominations including an Oscar, the Cannes Grand Jury Prize, and 5 Baftas tends to be worth a look. Guiseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso is by no means an exception to this rule. Even those who dismiss foreign cinema on a regular basis will find it difficult not to appreciate this romantic Italian film of the late 80s.
The story of Paradiso begins with Salvatore, a famous film director receiving the news that his good friend Alfredo has passed away. As Salvatore (nicknamed Toto) prepares to go back to the village he grew up in after spending most of his adult life a world away in the hub of Italian film production, he reminisces about his childhood and adolescence, about people and places and of love and heartbreak which happened so many years ago.
Therefore, the majority of Cinema Paradiso is told through flashbacks. Toto grew up fatherless in the small Sicilian village of Giancaldo with his younger sister and Mother. As a lively little boy (played by the very adorable Salvatore Cascio), his mother struggled to keep her eye on him while he became obsessed by the wonder of the cinema, and as he befriended middle-aged Alfredo - the projectionist at the local Cinema Paradiso - who became the father figure he was missing.
The cinema theme links in well with Toto's journey of discovery. Alfredo becomes his mentor and confidante, not standing for his mischief, and as he grows up, he freely offers his advice to Toto - especially when it comes to his first love - the beautiful Elena. Despite Alfredo's blindness, he see's more than Toto realises. At first the young girl doesnt reciprocate Toto's love, but eventually she relents and Toto is complete. However, his joy doesn't last for long, and Elena disappears from his life.
The director's cut of Cinema Paradiso is a very different version to the one released in the 80s. The new version - with 51 minutes (yes that's right!) of sliced footage restored into the film explains the question which British filmgoers must have been kicking themselves to find out - what on earth happened to Elena? Although the Director's Cut is so much longer than the original, Cinema Paradiso retains its pace and ferocity of the story throughout.
The directors cut changes the outcome and views of some of the characters completely. The DVD contains both the Director's cut and the original release, and it makes one hell of a difference. Instead of using Alfredo's funeral merely as a closure for the whole film, the Director's Cut brings a more final end to the story of Salvatore and Elena, and also a bit of a shock and the complete story of Alfredo - the man who urged Toto to leave Giancaldo and never return.
Aside from being a romantic drama, Cinema Paradiso profoundly documents the growth of Italian cinema - from the early 1940s when priests censored kissing scenes, from Chaplin, Renoir and John Wayne, from when cinema used to be the centre of the world, to its demise. This juxtaposed with Toto's childhood, his coming-of-age, and his first love and sadness brings a depth of reality yet fantasy to the film.
At the end of the film, Toto is moved to tears when receives his bequest from Alfredo - a film montage of all the screen kisses censored and cut from the films of Toto's childhood, and once more it reminds him of the love he has been missing since losing Elena, and the love which he will never know again. Cinema Paradiso is stacked full with profoundly moving moments such as this.
This, without a doubt, is my favourite film. It contains some of the most beautiful cinematic footage ever - in clips of the old cinema nuovo black and white films, and Tornatore's film itself. When Toto plays footage of Elena on his bedroom wall, you really appreciate the beauty and personal meaning of film.
Upon its release, Cinema Paradiso was regarded as the best foreign language film ever to grace western cinema. With the restored footage, it tops the bill again. The beuatiful soundtrack is enough to want you to curl up with a big bowl of Dolmio splattered pasta - actually maybe that might just be me...
In a society where we are quick to dismiss the magic of foreign cinema, it would be a real shame to cast this magical film aside. For those who saw Tornatore's original masterpiece, the director's cut is a blimmin' good excuse to watch it again, and for those who have never seen it - you'll never be asking the nagging questions filmgoers were 15 years ago! (Oh and you'll just be stunned by this cinematic beauty - they just don't make 'em like this anymore!)
This is a semi-autobiographical film from Giuseppe Tornatore, about a famous italian film director who returns to his home village in Sicily, and this sparks off a reminiscience of his life as a boy and the germination of his abiding love for the cinema. The story is told by means of an extended flashback, it only starts and finishes in the present day, before taking us back to that same rural Sicilian town in the post-war period. Although the story isn't jam-packed with action, it moves through Salvatore's (the director) young life and particularly his relationship with the older cinema projectionist, Alfredo, played touchingly by the ubiquitous Phillipe Noiret. It is not a sickly-sweet film, and it certainly does not oversentimentalise anyone or anything, but that makes the character developments all the more real. The relationship between the man and the boy form the axis of the film and it is an awkward friendship that ebbs and flows, both retaining a sense of realism. The flashback allows a sense of nostalgia to creep in, mainly by the means of the cinematography, the hints or suggestions in the camera work rather than shifting of the main plot. We follow Salvatore through his growing up, his first love and eventual departure from Sicily. It is a thoughtful rather than an active film. The settings and the re-creation of a small sicilian town allow the viewer to enter a world, escape, in the sense that cinema was created for. It is not overly sentimental though which adds to the emotional content.
Giuseppe Tornatore's beautiful 1988 film about a little boy's love affair with the movies deservedly won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and a Special Jury Prize at Cannes. Philippe Noiret plays a grizzled old projectionist who takes pride in his presentation of screen dreams for a town still recovering from World War II. When a child (Jacques Perrin) demonstrates fascination not only for movies but also for the process of showing them to an audience, a lifelong friendship is struck. This isn't just one of those films for people who are already in love with the cinema. But if you are one of those folks, the emotional resonance between the action in Tornatore's world and the images on Noiret's screen will seem all the greater--and the finale all the more powerful. --Tom Keogh