Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Script: Giuseppe Tornatore & Vanna Paoli
Cast: Antonella Attili, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Leo Gullotta, Marco Leonardi, Pupella Maggio, Agnese Nano, Leopoldo Trieste, Philippe Noiset
Running time: 122 minutes
Year: 1988
Certificate: PG

Cinema Paradiso is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages, having heard about its considerable charms from friends and film publications alike. It frequently makes many a film critic’s and cineaste’s top ten film list and is seen by many as a love letter to cinema, particularly the so called ‘Golden Age’ of cinema when the studios ruled the roost and actors were on long-term contracts to a particular studio. Therefore, being a film buff myself, I felt it was time to get better acquainted. So, was it worth the wait? Well, kind of…

The rather thin story focuses on the tiny boy, Toto, who has a deep fascination for watching movies, much to his mother’s annoyance. However, the film doesn’t start with him as a boy, but rather when he’s all grown up and living in Rome, now a famous film director. He receives a call from his mother, who still lives in the small Sicilian Village where he grew up, and he returns after she informs him of the death of an old friend.

Told in a flashback, Toto (grown up name: Salvatore) reminiscences about his childhood and, in particular, his relationship with Alfredo, a projectionist at the titular Cinema Paradiso. Under the fatherly influence of Alfredo, Salvatore fell in love with film-making, and with films in general, with the duo spending many hours discussing films and Alfredo painstakingly teaching Salvatore the skills that became a stepping stone for the young boy to get into the world of film making. The film takes the audience through the changes in cinema and the dying trade of traditional film-making, editing and screening. It also explores a young boy’s dream of leaving his little town to make a life for himself in the wider world outside, and follows his first love affair with a banker’s daughter, Elena.

Cinema Paradiso is, however, more a film about people’s relationship to the cinema-going experience rather than just about one man’s awakening into manhood, although it does cover that too. In fact one of the joys of watching the film is in observing the audience attending screenings at the rather quaint titular movie house and their reactions to what is playing out on the big screen in front of them. Some laugh, some cry, some repeat the lines, some masturbate, some pick their noses, while others watch their fellow audience members and spit on them!

At the centre of the film is the growing love between the boy and the much older man, Alfredo, who mentors him in all things movie-related and sometimes in love too. Alfredo is clearly taking on the mantle of male role model after Toto’s real father seems to have vanished during the war years.

Filmed in a lovingly framed manner, by Andrea Crisanti and Blasco Giurato, Cinema Paradiso is the sort of film one savours and returns to a number of times, as I certainly shall do. There are so many special moments in the film that it’s impossible to take everything on-board first time round. Paradiso finds time to touch so many different emotions, as it’s not only touching and nostalgic, but sensitive and funny too. I did feel it got a bit overly sentimental at times, for its own good, and the final scene is heart-achingly sweet, but also a tad cheesy simultaneously, but I still really enjoyed the final pay-off, despite some minor misgivings.

The acting is all top-notch, with some great chemistry on show between the leads, all nicely underlined by a luxurious score by the late great Ennio Morricone. It was certainly worth catching up with and I’m sure my appreciation of the film will grow with subsequent viewings.

Cinema Paradiso is being released in its theatrical version by Arrow Films and is currently available on Blu-ray. Arrow has included a barrel full of interesting extras for fans to watch or listen to including:

  • An audio commentary with Giuseppe Tornatore and Millicent Marcus;
  • A Dream of Sicily (52 mins) – A profile of Giuseppe Tornatore featuring interviews with the director, (replete with extracts from his home movies) and interviews with Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducetoi, all set to the music of Ennio Morricone. We learn that a projectionist actually lent Tornatore his first film camera and we get to see quite a bit of his early documentary footage. Much of the documentary feels like a dreamy, nostalgic travel-log of Sicily, with its now retired or dead craftsmen and women.
  • The Bear and the Mouse (27.5 mins) – A making of documentary with interviews with the principal actors Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio (who played Alfredo and Toto respectively). Apparently Noiret found Tornatore to be a very demanding director, something of a perfectionist, so he didn’t enjoy the shoot much, but Cascio has only fond memories of it, although he hated it when Noiret was smoking his cigars! The original cut of the film was 2.5 hours in length, but the producers cut it down to just over two hours.

  • The Kissing Scene (7 mins) – Director Giuseppe Tornatore is interviewed about the infamous ‘kissing scene’ which closes the film. He reveals that it wasn’t unusual in the past for Parish priests and town councillors to pre-cut films before their parishioners got to see them, and he did have a friend who used to collect these forbidden off-cuts! Originally Tornatore had wanted Fellini to play the projectionist in the scene, but the famous director had told Tornatore to play it himself as it wouldn’t jar the audience so much as if he himself randomly popped up. The films featured in the kissing montage include the likes of: His Girl Friday; The Outlaw; The Gold Rush; The Adventures of Robin Hood; The Son of the Sheik; Grand Hotel, It’s a Wonderful Life; and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (the Spencer Tracy version).
  • 25th Anniversary trailer (1.40 mins)

Cinema Paradiso
Justin Richards reviews Giuseppe Tornatore's 'Cinema Paradiso'.
4.0Overall Score
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About The Author

After a lengthy stint as a print journalist, Justin now works as a TV and film producer for Bazooka Bunny. He's always been interested in genre films and TV and has continued to work in that area in his new day-job. His written work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications, including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not running around on set, or sat hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard, he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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