Oscar winner for best foreign language film in 1990, Cinema Paradiso is a 1988 film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. Being only eight years old at the time of the great success of the film, I don’t remember the impact it had at the time. It is nowadays considered one of the best Italian films ever made both at home and abroad. So, is it?
It is hard not to appreciate a movie which is a declaration of love to cinema, with the main driver of Cinema Paradiso being the passion for the seventh art of the protagonist, Totò di Vita. Totò is played by the 9 years old Salvatore Cascio, by the young Marco Leonardi, and by the 50-years old Jacques Perrin at various stages of the character’s life. The job as a projectionist of Totò’s best friend Alfredo (played by Philippe Noiret) also provides Tornatore with a lot of excuses to demonstrate the director’s love for his job and to talk about his growing up dreaming of making movies. In fact it is not surprising to know that there is a lot of biographical elements in the story of Totò, which is none other than the very young Tornatore, who was friend with the projectionist and photographer Mimmo Pintacuda, that is Alfredo in the film.
Not only this movie demonstrates the director’s love for cinema. His love for Sicily is also evident, even though Tornatore does not spare some criticisms towards his land which gave (and still gives) little future prospects to young people full of dreams even when they are willing to work hard to achieve them. The historical reconstruction of post-war Sicily is phenomenal, with the life of the small village revolving around the main square with the church and the cinema, and the priest censoring all the films that Alfredo projects. And we, the audience, get to see all these films! We see Casablanca (1942), Gone with the Wind (1939), Stagecoach (1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)… and so many others!
That’s meta-cinema: we watch the characters in a movie watching movies in turn! And they do it in the old cinema, in the town square, in the new cinema built after the fire, by watching a filmstrip in front of a light source, in the movie posters hanging on the walls… and this is a feast for the eyes. And it is also a feast for the ears, since the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is amazing and memorable.
So, am I simply recommending you to watch a movie which is unanimously considered perfect? I’m afraid that I am not, because I didn’t find it perfect. I am still recommending it, but let me list a few criticisms!
The part of the movie with Totò as a kid is convincing from every point of view, but the parts with him as a 20 years old and as an adult left me a bit puzzled. I found them sketchy and uninteresting, possibly because of the absence of the most fascinating character of the film, Alfredo. I believe that this difference in quality can be explained by the fact that Tornatore had initially created a three-hours long movie that received very negative reviews and forced him to re-work it to release the two-hours version that we all know.
The choice of using non-Italian actors like Philippe Noiret, Brigitte Fossey, and Jacques Perrin to play Sicilian characters is a bit puzzling. Not only the original dubbing (in Italian) comes out to be unnatural, but also Fossey and Perrin are not credible at all as Sicilians. I also found the sound mixing a bit rough, with voices recorded in the studio without the slightest effort to recreate the sound of the environments in which the scenes of the film take place (a square, a small room, the large hall of a movie theater…).
That said, Cinema Paradiso remains an excellent film! It makes us reflect on issues such as friendship; the importance of family; the difficulty of growing up; love, whether it is for cinema or for a person… it is a touching film and it was evidently made with a lot of passion.
And also it’s a lot of fun to try to recognize all the movies and actors that we see on screen, a bit like we can do with the pop culture references of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
In short, Cinema Paradiso deserves being seen, there are no doubts about that! Ciao!