Last night I showed Cinema Paradiso to someone close to me, who had never seen nor heard of it before. We sat and we watched, and she really enjoyed it. She found it funny, sad, lively, and moving. Unlike her, last night was probably my sixth time seeing Cinema Paradiso, and I enjoyed it as much as she did and as much as I did the first time I saw it in a film class I took in high school. To enjoy a film as consistently as I do for Cinema Paradiso is a rare thing, and is proof of a quality of film. I would not describe Cinema Paradiso as one of my all time favorites, but it is a film that I use to show why I love movies.
Cinema Paradiso is an Italian film released in 1988, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It is the story of the relationship between Salvatore (aka Toto), a smart boy who grows up in a small town in post-WWII Sicily who causes mischief and is obsessed with movies, and Alfredo, the projectionist at the local theater called “Cinema Paradiso” who gives young Salvatore sage advice and the warmth and love as a surrogate father. Salvatore lost his father to the Russian front during the War, and lives with his little sister and lonely mother. With the loss of his father, Alfredo becomes a father figure to Salvatore as he is constantly sneaking into the projection booth and constantly attempts to hang out with Alfredo.
The relationship is a sweet one, layered in truth and love. Alfredo isn’t afraid to be angry at Toto, but also uses kindness and his genteel nature to assist Toto and his mother when he can, like in the scene where Salvatore’s mother is upset at her boy when Salvatore gladly used the money she gave him to buy milk and food, but instead spent a few hours experiencing a double feature at the cinema. As she is publicly scolding Toto, Alfredo comes by and gives the money Alfredo spent back to Toto’s mother. Alfredo’s sense of community and care is an admirable trait, and one that Alfredo teaches to Toto.
As Salvatore grows up, he falls in love with a new young girl in town, starts to work as the projectionist at the newly renovated Cinema Paradiso (now called “Nuevo Cinema Paradiso”), moves to Rome to serve his required time in the military, then comes back to his hometown before leaving once again to become a famous film director. All the while continuing to learn from Alfredo and loving his time being with his friend, the one who protected him, the one who needed Toto’s help at times, the one whom he loved as a father, the one he shared a love of film. Their love of the cinema was one that could never be broken. The Cinema Paradiso was a second home to them, one that held many wonderful, memorable, joyful, and sad memories.
The cinema was a reflection of life for the two. It was a place where they could forget about their poverty, about loneliness, and experience life. The cinema was a shared experience for them and the rest of the town. The cinema would be packed with practically everyone from the small Sicilian village (besides the homeless man who claimed the square was his at midnight). Everyone would laugh, cry, smile, scream, recite lines, eat, and love at the screenings, and Salvatore ate it all up. He loved every moment of it, as he viewed movies as a way of life, as a way to share experiences. Cinema Paradiso tells a story of two friends and how their lives affect one another, but also how film affects them as well.
You learn so many little stories and so much about the individuals in the town as the camera floats through the theater highlighting different moments as the village watches every film released at the Cinema Paradiso. Tornatore captures so much life in this film, every shot is filled with something that could become an entire story in its own right. This really is a captivating film that makes its setting another character, another living entity in the world of Salvatore and Alfredo.
The way these characters are enriched and surrounded by movies is one of the many reasons why I am always drawn to Cinema Paradiso. The movie perfectly captures how films and going to the theater to see a new movie can affect someone in such a positive manner. The art of cinema can create emotions in a way no other medium can. And part of that comes from being in a theater, surrounded by so many others experiencing the same emotions.
Cinema Paradiso is a lovely movie that tells the story of two friends and their love of movies. It contains one of Ennio Morricone’s most famous scores (and as you know, I am a fan of Morricone). The cinematography is wonderful, the acting is strong, particularly from Philippe Noiret as Alfredo and Salvatore Cascio as the child version of Toto. Cinema PAradiso is a charming film which relatable characters, moving scenes, and is filled with a love for movies and how the moving images can shape one’s life and relationships. I say that this movie perfectly encapsulates my love of movies, and it does. It joys how much joy can be found in a movie, and how much the cinematic art can bring people together.