Fall in love with the movies
Released in 1989, Cinema Paradiso shot the Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore into the global limelight. The movie, which was released in Italy as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, became a huge success globally and even won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. It is ironic to think that it had a poor box office run in its native place. It is a sentimental and nostalgic movie about the friendship between a young boy and an old projectionist at a local theatre told mostly in flashbacks.
The movie takes place in Tornatore’s beloved Sicily. It begins with a successful movie director, Salvatore "Toto" Di Vitto, being informed of the death of an old man named Alfredo. Alfredo was the projectionist at the local movie theatre named ‘Cinema Paradiso’. It is revealed to us that Toto hasn’t visited his home town even once after he had left and if he decides to come for Alfredo’s funeral it would be the first time he has returned to his village.
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Upon hearing about Alfredo’s death Toto decides to come and along the way he reminisces the old times that he had spent with Alfredo. We learn that Toto’s father had gone off to fight the World War II and has been missing for some time. We later on learn that his father was in fact killed in action at the front. Toto thus is deprived of a father figure very early in his life itself and he is more than a handful to his single mother.
Toto however is mesmerized by the world of cinema. To him the various dubbed Hollywood movies that are played at the local movie theatre “Cinema Paradiso” offer a chance to view an outside world. He is so taken in by the movies that he even utilizes his milk money to watch the latest movie playing at the Cinema Paradiso. Alfredo too develops a liking for Toto and makes him his apprentice, a decision that would later save his life.
Alfredo and Toto develop a strong bond between each other. Alfredo becomes the mentor, the confidante and above all the father figure that is so lacking in Toto’s life. He helps Toto understand the various mysteries of life by quoting lines from the numerous movies he had seen.
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When Toto reaches adolescence he falls in love with the beautiful young girl named Elena. His love for her is filled with the romanticism that he has seen in his movies. He even stands under her balcony every night for days to prove his love for her. Alfredo (who is now blind as a result of an accidental fire in the projection room), out of deep affection for Toto, tells him to leave the small town and to go out into the world and make something of his life. When Elena apparently disappears all of a sudden, Toto takes the old man’s advice and sets forth to find his place in the world, never to come back again until the old man had passed away. When Toto inevitably returns, he finds the world he had left behind to have changed completely.
The one word that describes this movie is charming. Tornatore’s sentimental and nostalgic reminiscences takes us back to a time in our own life when things where much simpler. Every one of us can identify with the townsfolk’s excitement of a new movie coming to our local cinema theatres. We are taken in by the apparent innocence and growing up experiences of Toto. We are a part of the changes that sweep through the town which shown through the changes to and within the theatre ‘Cinema Paradiso’.
In fact change is one of the overwhelming themes in the movie. During the early days we see a priest acting as the local censoring authority by ordering the removal of any scene which shows kissing or romantic intimacy. Later on we see that as the theatre become more commercialized the priest’s powers are eroded and he never comes back to watch a movie at all.
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Tornatore creates a whole lot of small characters that stay with us long after watching the movie. We are not likely to forget the priest or the mad man who thinks that he owns the square or even the women who wash their hair at the fountain. All of them have their life centered round the theatre the sole source of entertainment for an otherwise bleak life. Later we see that these very same people are actually sad about missing out on the community experience of watching the movies.
The highlight of the movie is the humor and the charm that it exudes. It is unlikely that anyone would watch this movie and not reminisce something from his past that would strike a chord with his heart. It could be that movie experience that you had in your childhood, or that ever lasting experience you had with your friend or even that elusive first love. In the climax of the movie we learn that Alfredo had left behind a roll of film for Toto. It is a montage of all the edited kissing scenes from earlier on. Toto is overcome with emotion on seeing this as all his past pent up feelings emerge to the surface. Cinema Paradiso will make you fall in love with the movies all over again.