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Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo cinema Paradiso) (1989)

  Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Antonella Atilli, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Pupella Maggio, Agnese Nano, Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Links: Cinema Paradiso on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Romance

This movie gets: 10.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Bellissimo" - a review by mino

I don't know what it is about European films. Are they really so wonderful? Do we just see the very best of the best over here, and all the dross gets left behind at the airport? Or is it just that we arthouse wankers expect to see a high-quality film when we watch something in a foreign language, and we're too scared to say ‘it's crap’ because all the other arthouse lovers will laugh at us?

Well, I don't know what it is, but Cinema Paradiso is a truly superb film, with the same charmingly exotic feel as, say, Life is Beautiful (1997), and even better, an absolutely heart-warming feel-good whimsy not at all unlike that of Amélie (2001). I can't see, in fact, how it would be possible to dislike this movie.

Cinema Paradiso is simultaneously vast and tiny in its scope, which is all part of its charm. Vast, because it covers such a long period of time and (in the ‘director's cut’ I saw) in such wonderful detail; tiny because not only does it only tell the story of a few lives, but it doesn't really cover any events of significance. There are no sweeping battles, or murders, or political intrigues; it's just the story of a little kid who likes movies.

In the first third of the movie, we see the kid in question, Salvatore (initially played by Salvatore Cascio) as a young boy, a boy who loves nothing better than heading to the Cinema Paradiso, a small cinema in a tiny Italian village. While he initially does little more than annoy the projectionist, Alfredo (the absolutely mesmerising Philippe Noiret), Alfredo soon realises how much Salvatore's love of the cinema means to him, and they become firm (and lifelong) friends.

As Salvatore becomes older (the second third of the movie, in which the corresponding acting duties fall to Marco Leonardi), Alfredo becomes one of the most important people in Salvatore's life — no longer just a companion, or someone to admire, but rather a mentor, someone to guide the often-puzzled Salvatore through life — and, of course, through love, in this case with the beautiful Elena (Agnese Nano). The relationship between the boy and the old man is put to the test more than once, but their friendship only grows; it really is a beautiful tale. While it could be nothing more than schmaltz, it never is; not once do you think ‘I'm gonna be sick’, rather ‘I may cry’.

These first two-thirds of the movie are a series of reminiscences from the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), now wildly rich and successful; in the final third, it is this adult who features, as he is called back to the village by his elderly mother Maria (Pupella Maggio, who somehow manages to just as good a job as Antonella Atilli, who plays Maria as a younger lady; something that is, in itself, an incredible feat).

I honestly don't know how I can begin to describe this movie beyond such a simple plot summary. It's just perfectly put together. Too often, when you have multiple actors playing the same characters at different ages, at least one of them lets the side down; here, it's absolutely impossible to fault a single one of the main actors. They are all divine, and manage to work so well with each other that the transition of ages is totally seamless. Likewise, when a movie changes not just direction, but feel, it often loses the way; not so here. The three sections of the movie feel enormously different from each other — light-hearted and funny in the first act; philosophical, moving and tragic in the second; and both sadly reflective, but somehow joyous, in the third. Each contributes equally to the movie, and not one is a let-down.

It's worth noting the acting from the bit players in the movie: while the contrast between the magnificent acting of the leads and the hammy, clumsy performances of the townsfolk, friends, other cinema-goers, and so on, this actually makes the movie better. Sure, the townsfolk are all terrible actors, and often you're laughing at them, rather than with them, particularly as they struggle with second-rate physical comedy which is not nearly as clever as some of the more wry humour in the film. But you know what? It doesn't matter. Because the townsfolk are buffoons, they're supposed to be exaggerated, and it doesn't matter a whit that the actors in question are awful. Hamming it up is exactly what's required from these idiots, and they do it well — it all just serves to make the film even more pleasant and whimsical.

While the whole movie feels totally dreamy and delicious, there are a few scenes that stand out, and which show the different delights to be had in this film. Among the most memorable are the scenes of the local priest turning up as soon as the new movies arrive, for a private screening in which he rings a bell whenever something ‘racy’ happens on-screen. This is the sign for Alfredo to mark the movie for later censorship. These scenes, though brief, are tremendously funny, and simulatneously make you laugh while conveying in thirty seconds not only the priest's character, but those of Alfredo and Salvatore, and indeed they tell you a lot about the town itself.

Secondly, the truly wonderful scene towards the end of the film when the adult Salvatore finally sits down and talks to his mother about everything they've never had the time or the inclination to discuss before — which is to say, nearly everything. The chemistry between Perrin and Maggio is wonderful, and it's impossible not to become totally wrapped up in their conversation in this truly memorable scene.

Finally, the closing scene of the movie. I won't say anything about it, in order not to ruin it; largely because I would be ruining possibly the most absolutely heart-stoppingly gut-wrenchingly perfect final scene in the history of cinema. It's just — perfect, it really is. There's no other word for it, and this scene caps off the film in a way like nothing else could.

One other thing: while I'm not one to notice the music in movies, exactly the same thing happened here as with The Untouchables (1987)Ennio Morricone's absolutely perfect score begged to be noticed, and could not possibly escape mention. Morricone's music leaps out at you, but not in an overbearing way — just in a way that makes you go wow at the sheer perfection of it. It would be remiss of me not to lavish praise on it.

Cinema Paradiso is certainly long (nearly three hours, in the extended version reviewed here), but it's not at all a drag: it's a long, lazy, lolloping ride, which will transport you to far-off lands and times, and make you wish you could stay there forever.

mino gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 5 Mar 2004

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Reader comments

  1. very good movie. long but good.

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Ness on Mon 04 Oct 2004 12:07 #

  2. A very beautiful, sensitive portrayal of a tender relationship between a young boy (Salvatore)and a projectionist(Alfredo).They play the roles of surrogate son and father for each other, aspects missing in their respective lives. Salvatore loses his father in the war and Alfredo doesn't have any children. Giuseppe Tornatore has done a terrific job, exploring a relationship which has rarely ever been portrayed on the silver screen.

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Rashmi on Tue 05 Apr 2005 04:39 #

  3. ''Stupendous!'' is what I exclaimed after watching this movie and I do that every time I watch the movie. Salvatore Cascio, who played the character of kid Toto, won the BAFTA award for 'Best Actor in a Supporting Role'. Probably, the youngest to receive the laurel. Not at all surprising, though.
    This is my favourite movie of all time. I am highly unfortunate not to have watched the original version.
    Philippe Noiret's performance as Alfredo is simply mesmerizing.

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Reddie on Wed 19 Apr 2006 09:48 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 9.67 (3 ratings)

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