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Review: Cinema Paradiso

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso defines poignancy. In many circles, this picture is considered the greatest foreign film ever made. Touché! Cinema Paradiso is a virtuous concoction of love, faith, and film that spans two special relationships between a boy and his mentor and a man and his love of the movies. It is the type of surreal, sublime, and nostalgic motion picture that can put your approbation on a pedestal to a sheer state of elation. All the while, it can tickle your funny bone, result in a multitude of warm smiles, and even inflict a tear or two. If you have a passion for great cinema, you will adore Cinema Paradiso.

Through an extended flashback, Salvatore DiVita (Philippe Noiret) recollects his adolescence as a cinephile in the village of Giancaldo. As a youngster, Salvatore – nicknamed Toto (Salvatore Cascio) – builds a lasting friendship with Alfredo (Jacques Perrin), the projectionist at the village’s movie theater. As a young adult, Salvatore (Marco Leonardi) becomes increasingly immersed in the magic of cinema — eventually taking over as projectionist and even doing some filming of his own. However, after experiencing both his first love named Elena (Agnese Nano) and the troubles of war with the Italian army, Alfredo convinces Salvatore to move on to a better life — out of Giancaldo. When Salvatore finally returns to his hometown thirty years later, his mother sees that her son’s mentor made the correct recommendation, and Salvatore develops a better understanding of Alfredo’s intentions.

If there is one picture that can eschew any personal distaste for subtitles, it is Cinema Paradiso. Twenty minutes into the feature, you forget that you are even required to read. That is proof in itself that Cinema Paradiso is entrancing enough to appeal to all crowds. However, the bona-fide cinema connoisseurs will undoubtedly take the most pleasure in this Italian paradise.

Vis a vis the “kissing montage”, Cinema Paradiso’s sine qua non is both gratifying and invigorating. This scene in particular comes close to holding dominion over my all-time favorite cinematic sequences. However, this one touching scene is not the only reason why Cinema Paradiso succeeds.

Sometimes it’s the little things that make people smile, and in the case of Cinema Paradiso, there are plenty of moments that evoke a warming grin. For instance, the scene where Salvatore, as young-adult, creates his own dialogue to his footage of Elena is pleasing. Both the story of the 99 nights of waiting and then Salvator’s eventual interpretation are interesting. And, the shot where Salvatore’s mother drops her knitting needles, runs to greet him at the door, and undoes the garment she was working on is absolutely beautiful.

Incidentally, this film is viewable in two different versions—the U.S. theatrical release and the director’s cut. Both editions of the film earn my highest recommendation; yet, if I were forced to choose a version, it would definitely be the director’s cut. While it is a full 51 minutes longer in length, it is worth every additional second. This 174 minute journey is three-hours of film at its absolute finest. Be it one version or the other, make time to see this foreign treasure; it is a fine example of a flawless feature, and truthfully one of my all-time favorite films. Amo questa pellicola. (**** out of ****)

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About Brandon Valentine

  • “In many circles, this picture is considered the greatest foreign film ever made.”

    Which circles are these?

    Cinema Paradiso is a great movie, but in no way does it reach the greatness of Seven Samurai.

  • Lucia Henderson

    Has anyone seen the new movie The Adventures Of George The Projectionist? – it’s about a mad Italian director’s combined remake of Cinema Paradiso and Pulp Fiction (!) I would like to buy the DVD, although not sure if it’s out yet…

  • Shark

    Great review. Ditto to everything you wrote!

    And btw, Tan — Shark considers this one of the best films ever made in any language — (but for tossin’ out *Seven Samurai, yer still “the man”!)

    (*Red Beard was better!)

    I would also recommend a French film called “The Chorus” to anyone who enjoyed Paradiso; they’re somewhat similar in vibe.