No matter how cynical we’ve all become, we can always go back to Cinema Paradiso. Its unabashed sentimentality and unapologetic romanticism would send all that sarcasm and pessimism into exile. Yes, it’s melodramatic and adorned with so much corn, more than enough for any hardcore ‘adult’ person to handle, but as soon as Ennio Morricone’s wistful, legendary score sweeps in, I dare anyone not to crumble into a pile of blubbering wreck. I personally can’t through Cinema Paradiso without looking like a helpless, sobbing tramp. It breaks me, every single time I see it. It’s now 25 years old, would you believe? The film’s original cut was released back in 1988 – the year I was born. I grew up with the bastard. Little wonder my emotional and existential connection with it. Now it’s restored and remastered in Blu-ray mint, courtesy of the brave folks of Arrow Films, poised to hit the big screens again and win our thawing hearts. I cannot think of a better film to see this Christmas.
Giuseppe Tornatore’s homage to cinema has all the elements that, if clumsily handled, would plummet this film into the bottomless pit of mawkishness where people roll their eyes 24/7. He employs a flashback structure – old man recollects his past youth after a death of a hometown friend, and in the process evoking a portrait of an impoverished, fatherless childhood. However, it is this flashback structure to which Cinema Paradiso holds its uncompromising power. It’s done miracles with Stand by Me and countless other coming-of-age movies. But here, Tornatore ensures a deft marriage of tender storytelling with a lush visual style. The camera glides, sweeps into the town square, moves along with the characters – accompanying the growing consciousness of the little hero Toto (a delightful little eight-year old rapscallion Salvator Cascio), his passion for cinema and his life being a local, small-town projectionist. It is made all the more poignant when this boy harbours an awareness that his father, a soldier sent to war, is never coming back.
He adopts a patriarchal figure in local film reel operator Alfredo (an iconic Philippe Noiret), and here the film soars. This childhood is as nostalgic as it can get – whimsical, funny and moving. And when the film later runs in the present, the funeral march and the destruction of the movie palladium, it is equally heart-wrenching for us, audience, to see and endure the ravages of time, having witnessed this dying town’s attachment to this entertainment medium. Rarely has cinema exquisitely encapsulated and lamented the power and importance of celluloid in our lives as a society. And that final montage of Alfredo’s film negative clippings, cinema’s greatest moments all pieced together creating an astounding, remarkable tugging of the heartstrings. This is one of Italy’s best made films up there with Bicycle Thieves. Melodramatic, yes. But life is one big fucking melodrama, and all we need is a film like Cinema Paradiso to help us deal with it.
DIRECTOR: Giuseppe Tornatore | CAST : Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin | SCREENPLAY: Giuseppe Tornatore | DISTRIBUTOR: Arrow Films | RUNNING-TIME: 173 mins | GENRE: Drama/Romance | COUNTRY: Italy