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A stunning bittersweet experience
on 26 March 2007
Originally released in 1988 Cinema Paradiso , is a hymn to love .Not just the love of a man for a woman or vice versa , but the love between a boy and an adult and their mutual love for a medium -cinema. It's the sort of subject matter that would normally have me running for the cinema exit so fast that I'd be outside before my chair had flipped up. But persuaded to see this at the cinema at the time by a friend I reluctantly went along. I was completely enraptured .Cinema Paradiso is a sumptuous film , funny, absorbing and moving.
The version I saw all those years ago was the truncated 121 minute rendering, foisted on the audience by a studio who thought American audiences would deem it too long. This they did by cutting off the end of the film thus robbing it of it's real emotional resonance .Even so it ,s still a magnificent movie. The directors cut restores the butchered 51 minutes and is the film as director Giuseppe Tornatore originally envisaged it so it makes more narrative sense .The cut version is wonderful but the directors cut is an absolute masterpiece. Both versions are on this DVD as well as a making of documentary and a CD version of Ennio Morricones sublime soundtrack.
An element of autobiography is surely integrated into the screenplay as Tornatore pays deference to his formative years in a small town in Sicily . Toto( an incredibly cute Salvatore Cascio) is a young altar boy who finds the whole thing a bit of a chore. He prefers to spend his time at the cinema , either watching the movies or harassing the projectionist Alfredo ( Philippe Noiret) His mother is a single parent as they both wait for his father to return from the Russian front and she struggles to contain the boys mischievous ways.
The towns cinema is a central place for the community, packed out for every screening,. Alfredo a believer that everyone should enjoy the magic of cinema even projects a film onto the white wall of a nearby building so all those locked out can see it too. The towns priest acts as a censor , viewing the films before the public and ringing a bell to let Alfredo know that a scene is unsuitable for the communal palate, usually scenes involving kissing .These Toto collects from the projectionist booths floor .
Alfredo and Toto form a bond and he trains the boy in his profession , even a tragic incident with flammable film stock that costs Alfredo dear doesn't destroy their camaraderie. Toto eventually succeeds Alfredo but his head is turned away from his love of cinema for the first time by the arrival of the beautiful Elena ( Agnese Nano) who he struggles to express his love for.
When Toto is called away for National Service he loses touch with Elena and when he returns home Alfredo tells him to leave for ever , to make the most of himself and follow his dreams .So we learn that Toto became a successful film- maker in his own right .But hearing about the death of his boyhood mentor Alfredo causes him to confront his past for the first time. Can he return home for the funeral and face all those memories of lost love and friendship. Here the film becomes a transcendent wallow in nostalgia as Toto re-watches all those snippets of the censored clips from his childhood. This is a scene so powerfully moving it has brought a lump to my throat the size of a golf ball just writing about it .Quite sublime.
A truly inspirational movie that had a dyed in the wool cynic like me gushing like the Trevi Fountain. It deservedly won an Oscar The Palme Dor at Cannes( it actually shared it with "Trop Belle Pour Toi") and a host of BAFTA,s. It's unsurpassed as a monument to lost love and the power and pull of memories , a quite stunning bittersweet cinematic achievement that will never be bettered in my opinion.