World Cinema Wednesday: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

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A tale of friendship, of looking back on your childhood with adult wisdom, and of cinema (of course), Cinema Paradiso is a collage of delightful moments, topped off with a cinematic montage that will affect all but the most cold-hearted viewers.

Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the main story charts the sometimes-turbulent friendship between ‘Toto’ (played as a youngster by Salvatore Cascio, played as a young man by Marco Leonardi, and played as an adult by Jacques Perrin) and a cinema projectionist named Alfredo (played throughout by Philippe Noiret). The two have very different viewpoints on life, obviously, but a shared love of the moving image leads to a shared selection of cherished memories.

Although the subject matter covers much more than just a love of cinema, this is an easy film to recommend to cinephiles. Tornatore uses his cast and directorial skill to create a sense of deep affection that emanates from the screen, both the affection that the main characters have for one another and the affection that both have for cinema. Every scene is given as much time as it needs to unfold, always feeling pleasantly relaxed rather than painfully sluggish, and almost every frame is infused with the warm glow of rose-tinted nostalgia spectacles, helped immensely by another beautiful score by Ennio Morricone.

Noiret is at his usual level of greatness in the role of Alfredo, helped by a script that sketches out his friendship with ‘Toto’ in an unforced and believable way. As for all three actors who portray his young protégé, they all do solid work, although it is the youngest – Cascio – who makes the best impression, thanks to his youthful exuberance and the fact that the first third of the film contains many of the best moments. I won’t namecheck other supporting players, but many of them get a chance to shine in even the smallest roles (e.g. the man who keeps telling everyone off when they spend too much time in “his” square).

Not a film for cynics, this is a sweet confection indeed (and some will probably find it far TOO sweet). Anyone who has only experienced this film in the initial theatrical cut may be interested to discover that the director’s cut adds some interesting material in the third act that drags everyone into the reality of the here and now, forcing the protagonist to realise that his own view of events in his life may not have necessarily been the best perspective. It’s not enough to change the entire tone of the film, and some may prefer the shorter, original, cut, but it does allow for things to feel resolved without JUST relying on that manipulative, and damn effective, final scene.

DIRECTOR: GIUSEPPE TORNATORE
WRITER: GIUSEPPE TORNATORE, WITH COLLABORATION FROM VANNA PAOLI
STARS: SALVATORE CASCIO, PHILIPPE NOIRET, MARCO LEONARDI, ANTONELLA ATTILI, JACQUES PERRIN
RUNTIME: 173 MINS APPROX (DIRECTOR’S CUT)
COUNTRY: ITALY, FRANCE

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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