Like all right-thinking people, I saw Cinema Paradiso back in the day and absolutely loved it. Who can’t fail to be charmed by the tale of the love of cinema bringing together projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) and the movie world’s new biggest fan, ‘Totò’ (played as a young boy by Salvatore Cascio).
The film begins with Toto’s mother phoning him thirty years on from the film’s main events. He is now an adult and he hasn’t seen her in thirty years. He’s out when she calls, so gets the message later from his better half. That message is that a man he knew as a child, Alfredo, has died.
Flashing back to when the man was a child, Alfredo was the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso, being ordered to censor films for kissing scenes, of all things, when instructed by the local vicar. As Toto first finds his love of the cinema, Alfredo moans to him in the projectionist booth that it’s hard work being in this profession, given that the only holiday you’re guaranteed to get is Good Friday, “and if they hadn’t put Christ on a cross, we’d have to work even then”.
Despite being at odds with the young lad, the his elder friend needs help with one thing – to pass the School Certificate exam, which he should’ve passed at the Toto’s age, but life has passed him by, academically. The depiction of their friendship is pure magic.
The Cinema Paradiso is the centre point of the entire village. In a world before television and TiVo, everyone went to the cinema for their entertainment. Unfortunately, the place burns down thanks to the combustible nature of the nitrate film stock and town resident Ciccio funds the construction of a new one after having won the pools. It’s like a rebirth, and as events change lives, Toto grows up and takes over as projectionist whilst also being a novice film maker with his own cine camera. Romance also comes calling as he falls in love with local girl Elena.
For a three-hour film, it’s surprising how tightly packed the film is and how every minute is essential, so if you’ve only seen it in its two-hour version then it’s time to check out the full movie in its intended format. The director’s cut adds a whole complete section to the film which I won’t detail here, but now having seen it, it makes the theatrical version feel completely bereft now that you, literally, know what you’re missing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cinema Paradiso is a tale of friendship, love, lost love, regrets, finding your way in life but not knowing if you’re really happy. It’s the whole of Toto’s life in one film and it’s magnificent. If you’re not swept away by the time the credits roll, then you’re not human.
Go to page 2 for the presentation and the extras.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.