Film is one of those rare mediums that can break down nearly all cultural and language barriers. Nowhere is this more evident than in the classic Italian language film “Cinema Paradiso.” The 1989 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, it shows how going to the movies is a constant for people all over the world.
Giuseppe Tornatore (“Everybody’s Fine”) directs this tale about the power and magic contained within those flickering images. The story opens with Salvatore DiVitta (Jacques Perrin), an acclaimed Roman film director, returning home one evening to find a message from his mother about the death of his friend Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). The news hits Salvatore hard, bringing back a flood of memories about his youth in the small Sicilian village of Giancaldo.
With his father stilling missing in action after World War II, Salvatore, who goes by the nickname Toto, is looking for a father figure. Ultimately he finds one in Alfredo, the cranky projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso, the local movie house. Without any children of his own, Alfredo is reluctant to get close to Toto, but a friendship blossoms just the same.
The relationship between Alfredo and Toto is the heart and soul of the story. Alfredo teaches his young protege the ins and outs of projection equipment as well as lessons about life. When the time comes for Toto to leave Giancaldo for better things, Alfredo implores him to never return. In one heartbreaking scene, he tells Toto that he never wants to hear him talking again, but he wants to hear other people talking about him and the great things he is doing far away from Giancaldo.
“Cinema Paradiso” also delves into the theme of movies as a universal experience, especially finding love in the dark. Director Giuseppe Tornatore follows one unnamed couple through the years, starting with a gentle flirtation across the seats, their courtship in the balcony, and the times when they return to the Paradiso with their child. As a young man, Toto finds love with Elena (Agnese Nano), and many of their romantic interludes take place in the projection booth.
In Giancaldo, the movie house acts as the cultural center of the whole village. When the Paradiso is owned by the local church, Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste) censors any scenes that he finds too provocative. He previews each film, ringing a bell at inappropriate scenes so Alfredo can clip them out of the reel. As an audience watches the censored print, one exasperated patron exclaims that he hasn’t seen a kissing scene in over 20 years.
A foreign language film that should be in every movie lover’s collection, “Cinema Paradiso” is about keeping the passion and love for the theater experience alive, especially in a world of cable television and home video. In the mind of the viewer, it brings back memories of their own Cinema Paradisos and reignites a passion for film.
“Cinema Paradiso,” rated R, is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc.
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