Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio, Salvatore Cascio
Loving something as a child occurs with a level of energy that cannot be measured, as it becomes our entire focus. For some, it may be sports, literature, or a wide variety of hobbies but in Cinema Paradiso it comes in the form of film. Serving as both an exploration of passion, but also the budding friendship between a boy and his mentor, this film promises to grab your heart and it certainly succeeds in its quest.
Fascinated by the world of cinema, Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) spends as much time as he can in the local movie house called Cinema Paradiso. There he becomes friends with the projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). As the years pass, Salvatore begins to grow and mature while still being connected to this beloved theater.
The theater-going experience has evolved in so many ways over the past century from a place everyone would just randomly hop into for fun to a quest with a high cost. Regardless of the circumstances, it creates a communal viewing experience like no other with the best presentation a film could have. As a film lover myself, I love the theater-going experience and I adore how Cinema Paradiso unabashedly displays how it impacts the life of one particular person from a young age and into adulthood.
While serving as a tale of the life of Salvatore, the true beauty of this film lies in the relationship he forms with Alfredo. Icy at times but always filled with love, their connection begins and ends with Alfredo telling Salvatore to stay away in some shape or form. It begins with Salvatore’s insistence of wanting to help project and learn from this elderly man, and even as Alfredo tries to push him away, their mutual love of cinema draws them together and they develop such a wonderful relationship. It’s so heartwarming to watch the moments between them as Salvatore ages and the level of respect the young man maintains for his mentor throughout the years.
With the narrative starting just after World War II, the historical context of the setting leaves a great impact on the characters’ way of thinking. At this time the church in Salvatore’s Sicilian town had plenty of power and even dictated what could be shown at the local theater. One of the major restrictions came from not allowing kissing to be shown to the patrons. The priest would have to screen each film coming to the theater to find where any inappropriate material would be and then flag it for Alfredo to eventually cut out. A bit drastic, but it was of the time. Having this restriction made it that more shocking when one sneaks by the priest and the audience watches a kissing scene and then progresses to lose their minds. Additionally, the toll of the war has left an impact on the community in an unspoken manner. Cinema has always been heralded as a great escape for people, which is exactly what the citizens of Italy needed after the harsh impact of World War II on them as a nation. It made it critical for them to come together and enjoy something as a community after years of pain.
Equally playful as it is thoughtful, Salvatore’s journey goes through different ebbs and flows as he experiences new things by the day. While continuing his love for cinema, he also develops feelings for a young woman named Elena (Agnese Nano). Their romance encapsulates the meaning of young love in the way they refuse to care for the forces around them pulling the pair apart. They focus on each other for as long as they possibly can, which shows the beautifully endearing nature of these two young folks. Just as Salvatore’s passion for cinema expands by the year, the fire he has for the affection of Elena burns so brightly, we can only hope it does not get extinguished by the reality of their situation.
Flowing through this touching story we have one of my favorite film scores ever composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. The beautiful theme laces through the feature with the beautiful use of a clarinet to coat each moment with an extra level of sentimentality and affection. It’s used beautifully throughout the feature to emphasize the most impactful moments of the story. The score lingers in parts to remind you of its existence and blares at the most opportune times. I can listen to it on repeat for hours because of the gorgeous combination of instruments creating a feeling. It’s most effective use comes from the epic scene at the end, which brings everything together and will force a tear or two from its significance.
Regardless if it comes in soft touches or in a tough manner, love emanates in this fulfilling film. It allows us to experience the life of someone always wrestling with what he wants to achieve but he gets grounded by the support system in the form of Alfredo. Others in his life come and go, but the projectionist always keeps everything real for Salvatore for this journey. The love for the movie theater experience makes this film special in reminding us of the impact communal viewing can have on the patrons. It’s more than just seeing it on the biggest screen possible, the love for cinema comes from sharing the experience with those you care about. The experience gets heightened when you can talk through what you just witnessed with others and how you can always look back on that escapade later in life. I adore Cinema Paradiso and everything it represents for those who love films and what it can achieve for the viewer.