Starring: Jacques Perrin, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Phillipe Noiret, Agnesse Nano, Leopoldo Trieste, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio, Enze Cannavale,
Running Time: 170 minutes (Director’s Cut), 124 Minutes (Theatrical Cut)
There simply aren’t enough words in the English language to do CINEMA PARADISO justice. Anyone who claims to be a fan of films without having seen it are doing themselves a huge disservice, as CINEMA PARADISO is the ultimate love letter to the silver screen. There may be more traditional romantic elements throughout, but it’s the love that filmmaker Salvatore (Cascio, Leonardi, Perrin) feels for movies that truly propel the film along. CINEMA PARADISO is so good, that any review risks running into a long string of praise that could easily be interpreted as hyperbole.
Essentially a film of three parts, CINEMA PARADISO begins with film director Salvatore Di Vita (Perrin) learning of the death of his old friend Alfredo (Noiret), he then remembers back to when he was a young boy in his home town in Siciliy where he first began a friendship with the town’s projectionist. Mostly set in a small village, Tornatore captures the very essence of what it was to once love film. The cinema is the only source of entertainment in the village, and it is constantly packed. As the very lifeblood of the community, we are shown great montages that show everything from the loss of virginity to even a murder. Sections such as these flow naturally thanks to the intricate editing of Mario Morra. Morra’s skills are further expressed through the inclusion of both cuts of the film in this set, both of which need to be viewed.
The focus in the first act is that of the friendship between Alfredo and the young Salvatore, known then as Toto (Cascio). Cascio is a child actor that simply oozes the kind of lovable charm that some real children possess. He is always an equal to Noiret, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Noiret captures a range of characteristics, as both the friendly old projectionist, but also as a man who may have some deep seeded regrets. His facial expressions light up the screen and their absence is felt throughout the second act for (those that have seen it) obvious reasons. Kudos as well to Vittorio Di Prima, who dubbed Noiret‘s (A French speaker), lines.
Tornatore doesn’t just offer up a loving character portrait for Salvatore, but also shows the changing ways of the world. The early sequences show the village’s priest demanding the removal of all kissing scenes from the prints, but gradually he realises that such “filth” is out of his control. The film is also still pertinent as a piece of commentary. This may have been a love letter to the cinemas of old and their death following the arrival of the multiplexes, but now we are facing the death of cinemas all together. Perhaps a sequel ‘Multiplex Paradiso’ should be on the cards?
Some films’ great moments echo throughout the very landscape of film, but CINEMA PARADISO has at least a dozen such memorable moments. Whether it’s the scene in which Alfredo projects a film into the town square, or Alfredo walking into a test meant for schoolchildren, the terrifying fire, or the best ending to any film ever in which Salvatore receives a gift from the deceased Alfredo. Even single lines of dialogue join the pantheon of great quotes. As Alfredo tries to encourage Toto to see the world, he says “I don’t want to hear you anymore. I want to hear about you,” which is better than any rambling ‘inspirational’ speech.
All this and I’ve not even touched on the incredible cinematography or best of all Ennio Morricone’s phenomenal score. The music in this film deserves a review of praise all to itself. It fills every scene with beauty and nostalgia, and raises a smile and a tear whenever heard outside of the film. One of the biggest feel good films, as well as constantly causing the waterworks to flow, CINEMA PARADISO is a great work of art that commands power over its audience. This 25th anniversary release reminds us that films like this come about far too rarely.