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Cinema Paradiso: An Endearing Classic!

December 26, 2009

When does a film make a great impression on you? What does it take for a film to be among your all time favourites? Why do we feel like watching certain films over and over again? Questions like these often lead us to a bigger question about films- Why do we fall in love with films?

There have been quite a few films which have left an indelible impression on our minds over the past 100 years or so and consequently these have stood the test of time. Cinema Paradiso is one among such films. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, ‘Cinema
Paradiso’ was first released in the year 1988 in Italy. The original version of the film titled ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’ was around 155 minutes long, but later it was edited and a 123 minutes long International version was released. The film went on to win an Oscar Award in the Best Foreign Film category in 1989. ‘Cinema Paradiso’ is a classic coming of age story of a young boy named Salvatore who’s nicknamed Toto. The film intertwines several themes like love, modernism, sentimentality and dreams. It is also an ode to evolution of films itself where a lot of emotions are either narrated through moving images or how they influence the characters in ‘Cinema Paradiso’.

Salvatore Di Vita, a famous film maker based in Rome receives a message from his mother who lives in the small town named Giancaldo, Sicily. He hasn’t visited this place in over 30 years and quite evidently he’s not interested in going back to his past. However, his mother has passed on a message that Salvatore’s friend and mentor, Alfredo has passed away and they expect Salvatore to be at the funeral. This message is a great shock to Salvatore and his mood instantly tells us that he had a deep bond with Alfredo. Salvatore delves into his past and connects the dots like the town Giancaldo and most importantly his mentor Alfredo, who has inspired him to be what he is.

The story traverses the life of Salvatore who lives in Giancaldo, Sicily. The town is surprisingly cut off from the Second World War which is ravaging Europe. The streets of the town are usually deserted and the town itself has a quaint environment. Salvatore, nicknamed Toto, is the epitome of mischief. Things like School and Church hardly seem interesting to him and as he grows up he develops a deep fascination for films which are screened in the town’s only cinema hall, ‘Cinema Paradiso’. It is here that Toto meets Alfredo, who works as a projectionist. Their daily meetings develop into a great friendship and Toto treats him like his own father. Toto’s own father hasn’t returned from the war and to hide this grief, Toto immerses himself completely in movies, much to the chagrin of his mother

‘Cinema Paradiso’ has its share of peculiar people, an elderly gentleman who comes to the cinema hall only to sleep, an aristocratic snob who spits on the commoners, a bunch of youth who whistle and howl at everything and so on. Since the Second World War is still going on, every film begins with a clipping on the latest progress of the war and also acts as a medium to promote Italian Government’s propaganda against their rivals. One of the best shot scenes in the film occurs in an examination hall where Toto and Alfredo reach a compromise. Toto’s innocent chuckles and expressions instantly strike a chord with Alfredo who has had his own doubts about his friendship with the young boy. The friendship between Toto and Alfredo grows so much that Alfredo allows him to sneak into the projection booth. Alfredo even teaches Toto how to operate the projection system and at the same time warns him that film can easily catch fire. Within few days, a tragic accident changes Toto’s life forever. The responsibility levied on Toto turns into both a boon and bane on his childhood. He falls in love with movies so much that he decides to make films himself and also take care of his family.

The film jumps 10 years into the future where we are told that quite a few things have changed. The town has a new cinema hall built in the same location called ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’. One fine day, a beautiful girl named Elena comes to this town and Salvatore is instantly smitten by her. However neither Elena’s father nor Alfredo approve their relationship. Alfredo advises Salvatore to forget about Elena and get out of Giancaldo to pursue his dreams. This obstinate behaviour of Alfredo confuses Salvatore and it takes him more than 30 years to realise why Alfredo never wanted to see him again.

It is quite clear that Salvatore Di Vita has not been able to forget his past and the people who lived in Giancaldo. His nostalgia is brought alive by Blaso Giurato whose cinematography is breathtaking throughout the film. The whole sequence of Toto’s childhood till his stay in Giancaldo is shot in a mood similar to that of the general life in the town. The visual impact of each and every scene of ‘Cinema Paradiso’ is probably one of the reason why this film works and has gone to become a cult classic. The film also narrates the incidents which occur upon Salvatore’s return to Giancaldo. Everything has changed now; modernism has almost destroyed the idyllic charm of this town. On the other hand, Salvatore is still fighting the ghosts in his life. He’s angry at himself that he couldn’t come home when his mother and sister needed him the most. He decides to leave the town and before that he receives a gift which Alfredo wanted him to have it. And when he finally sees the gift, it moves him to tears. It’s also probably one of the greatest treasures which Salvatore had always hoped to have since his childhood. It’s an iconic scene which will move anything who has fallen in love with movies.

Giuseppe Tornatore excels both as the writer and director of this film. The coming of age story of Salvatore is poignantly written and it’s equally heart touching on the big screen. Tornatore’s masterstroke lies in the fact that he infuses Alfredo’s character with a lot of pragmatism. Salvatore’s character goes through a lot of changes and he becomes the victim of life’s various charms especially Elena. However Alfredo’s pragmatism makes Salvatore realise that there’s much more to be done in life. Giuseppe Tornatore also succeeds in lacing the story with evolution of cinema and quite a few scenes portray the love for cinema in a unique sense. The films make the people of Giancaldo cry, laugh, excite and at later stages bewildered that world has changed. It so endearing that even we become a part of all the action in Giancaldo.

The beauty of ‘Cinema Paradiso’ is its narration which is laced with films spanning more than four decades. The mood of the film and also the town of Giancaldo changes with the type of movies shown in ‘Cinema Paradiso’. The stringent censorship of the earlier years diminishes and as time goes by the Cinema Hall becomes a place where relationships are formed. Ennio Morricone’s background score is poetic. It perfectly suits the innocence of Toto, the passion of Salvatore in his youth and the melancholy of Salvatore Di Vita who comes back to Giancaldo after so many years. The film also has a perfect cast. All the characters in the film especially Salvatore Cascio as the young Toto and Philippe Noiret as Alfredo infuse so much life into their characters that it’s hard to resist their charming conversations. The film is truly one of the best coming of age stories written which narrates the story of Salvatore and his journey in life. Alfredo’s advice does look like a bitter pill to swallow but Salvatore follows his advice out of respect and faith in Alfredo. It’s one of the defining moments in the film which makes you sympathize both with Salvatore and Alfredo’s situation.

‘Cinema Paradiso’ is one of the rare films which strike a chord instantly. It’s probably the Sicily sun, Toto’s innocence, Alfredo’s faith in Salvatore’s future destiny which paints a beautiful picture which stays with you forever. Watch it because a film like this has rarely been made. Watch it if you love cinema, it proves why cinema is so essential for our lives and makes our life so beautiful. Watch it even if you don’t like cinema, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ is the kind of film which will make you fall in love with films all over again.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 8, 2010 9:39 pm

    Yay, it’s on of my all-time most loved movies! my bro showed me it couple of years ago and I still love it, although I’ve seen maaany movies after that.
    Maybe it’s not wonderful as a story, but it’s heatwarming anyway. And this compilation of kisses at the end!
    I’m glad that you liked it too 🙂

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