Cinema Paradiso

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Screenplay: Giuseppe Tornatore and Vanna Paoli (story by Giuseppe Tornatore)
Stars: Philippe Noiret (Alfredo), Salvatore Cascio (Salvatore as a Child), Marco Leonardi (Salvatore as an Adolescent), Jacques Perrin (Salvatore as an Adult), Antonella Attili (Young Maria), Pupella Maggio (Older Maria), Agnese Nano (Elena), Enzo Cannavale (Spaccafico), Isa Danieli (Anna), Leo Gullotta (Bill Sticker), Leopoldo Trieste (Fr. Adelfio)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1988
Country: Italy / France
Cinema Paradiso
Cinema Paradiso

Although it would eventually win major awards all over the world, including a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and five BAFTA Awards (including Best Film Not in the English Language), Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, a loving tribute to indelible impact of the cinema on both individuals and society, had a rather disastrous start. Initially released in Italy in 1988 in a nearly three-hour version, it failed to find an audience and was generally dismissed by Italian critics, causing the distributor to pull it from screens and send it back in the cutting room. Tornatore sliced out 50 minutes and submitted it to Cannes, where it was rapturously received and sold to distributors all over the world, thus beginning its journey to becoming one of the most iconic foreign films of the 1980s (its second life as an omnipresent fixture of the “Foreign Films” section in virtually every video store helped ensure its longevity).

Like several other Italian films of its era, including The Magic Screen (1982), Paradise Street (1988), and Splendor (1989), the story in Cinema Paradiso is set in the immediate postwar era and revolves around a small movie theater in the fictional Sicilian village of Giancaldo. The theater, the “Cinema Paradiso” of the title, is the center of town life, and it also straddles the secular and the religious, as it is a parish movie theater situated next to the sanctuary. The village priest, Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste), polices the movies by prescreening them and ringing a bell any time he sees something of which he disapproves (usually a kissing scene), which the projectionist then snips out before screening it to the townspeople.

The projectionist is a big, mustachioed bear of a man named Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who has been working there since he was a child, when he hand-cranked a silent film projector. Alfredo strikes up an unlikely friendship with a 10-year-old boy named Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio), who goes by the nickname Toto. Toto is enthralled with the cinema and wants to do what Alfredo does, working the sacred space of the projection booth, making the flickering images come alive for the delighted eyes of the spectators in the seats below. Cinema Paradiso is, at heart, a paean to the power of the movies—not just to entertain us, but to draw us together in a community of mutual appreciation that laughs and cries together. It is not surprising that films about the classical era of movie-going proved popular in Italy in the 1980s, as the 1970s had seen a precipitous decline in theatrical attendance and the subsequent destruction of many old movie houses. Tornatore’s film is fundamentally nostalgic, to the extent that it expends much of its energy reanimating a long-gone past that is put in stark juxtaposition to the present.

The film actually begins in the present tense, with Salvatore as a successful and wealthy, but seemingly disaffected middle-age man (Jacques Perrin) who receives a phone call one night that compels him back into the memory of his childhood and young adulthood. Those early years were centered around his relationship with Alfredo, who becomes a kind of surrogate father figure, and the movie theater that was their home of sorts. As a young man (Marco Leonardi), Salvatore falls in love with Maria (Antonella Attili), a girl who at first does not respond to his affections, but eventually falls in love with him, as well. Their relationship is both idealized in its postcard-worthy moments of chasing each other through fields of grass and kissing passionately in the rain and tragic in their eventual separation, first by his compulsory military service and later by her family moving.

That balance of the ideal and the tragic weaves all throughout Cinema Paradiso, which is epic in terms of the time frame it covers (some four decades), but feels consistently intimate in its focus on the characters and the village itself, which becomes its own character over the years. It is a film of extremely good nature—generous in spirit, one might say, in terms of how it seeks out what is appreciable in everyone on screen. It is also, of course, a film that is in love with the cinema, and those who know and appreciate film history will have a particularly meaningful experience watching the various films that unspool in the little theater, from the neorealist masterpiece Rome, Open City (1945), to Hollywood sword-and-sandal schlock like Ulysses (1954). Every movie has its own appeal, and those brief snippets (each carefully chosen), make it clear that getting lost in those flickering images, so alive even in their ghostly nonexistence, is one of life’s greatest, most sublime pleasures.

Cinema Paradiso Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.66:1
  • Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • Italian LPCM 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary with director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus
  • A Dream of Sicily documentary profile of Giuseppe Tornatore
  • “A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise” retrospective featurette
  • “The Kissing Sequence” featurette
  • Original theatrical trailer and 25th anniversary re-release trailer
  • Collector’s booklet by Pasquale Iannone illustrated with archive stills, behind-the-scenes images, and posters (first pressing only)
  • DistributorArrow Films
    Release DateMarch 21, 2017

    This packaging of Cinema Paradiso is pretty much identical to the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray that was released by Arrow in the U.K in 2013. Like that release, it features both the 124-minute theatrical cut and the 174-minute director’s cut, which was theatrically released in 2002. Both versions of the film have been restored from the original camera negative and look absolutely gorgeous. The image is robust with detail, but still maintains a strong filmlike appearance with plenty of grain that looks fabulous in motion. You also have the option of listening to the soundtrack in either the original monaural in a lossless PCM track or a remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack, which helps open up and deepen the beautiful orchestral score. All of the supplements are the same as the previous release: The theatrical version has a solid, highly informative audio commentary by Yale professor of Italian Millicent Marcus, author of Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism, among other titles. Throughout there are interspersed comments from director Giuseppe Tornatore, but the majority of the time belongs to Marcus. There is a 52-minute documentary titled A Dream of Sicily that profiles Tornatore and features interviews with the director and his early home movies, as well as interviews with director Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducato; “A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise,” a 27-minute retrospective featurette about the film’s production and reception that features interviews Tornatore and actors Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio; and “The Kissing Sequence,” a 7-minute featurette in which Tornatore discusses the origins of film’s most infamous sequence, which follows with on-screen identification of each film clip and the actors on screen. Finally, there are trailers for both the original theatrical version and the 25th anniversary re-release.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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