CINEMA PARADISO: A Retro Review

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To tell a short story about Cinema Paradiso… I first heard about it about 30 years ago. My dad worked as a projectionist and a good friend of his, who worked in a rival cinema, called Bob, told me about it when I was young. It was his favourite movie.

It’s taken me all that time to finally get around to watching it and I’m annoyed at myself for leaving it this long.

Here’s my retro review of Cinema Paradiso

The movie is written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It has the most amazing score by Ennio Morricone and stars: Phillippe Noiret, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Antonella Attili, Leo Gullotta, Marco Leonadri, Angese Nano, Salvatore Cascio, Leopolda Trieste and loads more.

This movie is about a cinema, about that golden age of cinema, the patrons who would attend it, the priest who would censor the movies… it was the centre of a small community and where one boy grew up.

The movie starts with a telephone call, an ageing mother calls her son to tell him his friend Alfredo has passed away. Suddenly, the son, Salvatore (Perrin) is taken back to when he was about 10 and an altar boy in the local church. When one of the services has finished, it was time for the priest to censor any new movies that had arrived at the cinema, which was also the church.

The movie would be shown and anything too risqué, the priest would ring a bell and the projectionist, Alfredo, would put a slip of paper in the reel and knew he would have to edit it out later. While this was going on, little Salvatore, would hide and watch the un-edited movie, with a cheeky little smile on his face.

Salvatore, known then as Toto, would visit Alfredo in the projection room, where he is editing the naughty bits out of the movies. Toto asks if he can keep the spare bits of film, but Alfredo tells him he has to edit them back into the film before they send it back to the studio. It’s great since Toto goes through a dustbin full of bits of film, Alfredo explains those are the bits he forgot to put back in.

Toto does take home small clips of films, maybe the odd single frame and puts them in a tin under his bed. In the evenings, he looks at the frames of 35mm and makes up little stories about each one. It is adorably cute.

I’m not going to go into detail about all of the movie, but it’s wonderful seeing the different people who go to the cinema, the kids, the guy that likes to go there to sleep and the man who always complains about having never seen a kiss on the screen, ever!

It takes you back to when the cinema was an event, everyone used to go, the cinema would be packed, everyone would laugh, cry and be scared or excited together.

One evening, there was only one showing at the cinema and not everyone can get it. Alfredo has a little trick though, if he tilts the glass in front of the projector, he can reflect the movie outdoors and set up a speaker, so everyone can see and hear it! The priest, who runs the cinema, as well as the church, says the people outside, should only be charged half price.

Toto and Alfredo form a loving bond between them. Toto’s father is away at war and MIA and Alfredo never had children. Alfredo tells Toto that being a projectionist is a lonely life, you work all the time, your only friends are the people on the screen, but Toto doesn’t care, it’s his dream to work there.

There was one moment, where Alfredo teaches him how to splice the 35mm movies and shows Toto that you lick the film… I really smiled at this, since that’s what my dad taught me when I was a kid.

35mm film was extremely flammable and one night, the worst happens, a film catches fire and Alfredo is hurt. Toto manages to pull him to safety, but he’s been blinded! Eventually, the cinema is rebuilt and Toto takes over as the projectionist but Alfredo still pops in to see him, they are now great friends.

As time goes by, Toto grows up and both he and Alfredo remain the best of friends. At school/college, Toto, now going by Salvatore, likes to make his own movies with a small cine camera. Again, this made me smile since I shot my first ever footage on an 8mm cine camera.

He films a beautiful young lady called Elena (Nano) and Salvatore falls in love with her, but it’s not mutual. He says he will wait under her window, every night after work, and wait for her to leave her window open, which will show him she loves him back. He waits and waits.

There is a beautiful, but heartbreaking moment, on New Year’s Eve, where he thinks she has opened her window, but she hasn’t… the shot of Salvatore, walking sombrely down the village road, with everyone celebrating New Year, was gorgeous to watch, although you felt Salvatore’s pain.

Eventually, they do fall in love, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere with it, since Salvatore’s real love is the cinema. I think it showed how relationships may come and go, but some loves stay with you, forever.

Eventually, Alfredo encourages Salvatore to leave the village since he thinks the village is too small for Salvatore and he could follow his dreams and do whatever he wants, which he couldn’t do in such a small place. Alfredo tells him to not look back, to not dwell in nostalgia, but to find his destiny in his future. Salvatore does this and becomes a famous movie director.

* Spoilers About The End *

The phone call that Salvatore’s mother makes at the start of the movie, tells him about the funeral, so he decides to go back to the village, just for the funeral of his friend. From this point, I shed a tear or two, since it was beautiful how he saw all the people who knew growing up in the village, meeting his mother and sister again… and then seeing the state of the cinema. This was heartbreaking!

The cinema was in a state of ruin and about to be demolished to make way for a car park. Salvatore gets permission to go in, one last time… it’s full of posters for cheap porno movies, the seats are ruined, the projection room is a mess. Salvatore is upset, that the place he grew up, the place he loved is now just a wreck and ruin. I’m starting to sob now.

After the funeral, Alfredo’s wife says he left Salvatore a gift, it appears to be a reel of film. The next day, the Cinema Paradiso is scheduled to be demolished. Salvatore and all the other patrons are there, the kids who grew up there, the couple that fell in love, the man who used to sleep during the movies… they all stand and watch the beloved cinema destroyed. I’m blowing my runny nose at this point.

Salvatore returns home and back to work, in a screening room, he asked the projectionist to play the movie that his beloved Alfredo left him… it is every kiss Alfredo had ever edited out because of the priest. Salvatore sits there, with a huge smile, as tears run down his cheeks. His friend has left a gift that no other person in the village ever saw. At this point, I’m am sobbing uncontrollably!

*End Of Spoilers *

This is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, the cinematography is wonderful; simple, yet stunning. I cannot think of a movie to compare this to. I don’t think I have felt more attached to a character before. I think this hit me since it did remind me of my dad, who’s been passed away now for about 20 years. Although, I’m pretty annoyed at him for not making me watch this when Bob told me about it 30 years ago.

Also, there is one of the most beautiful scores I have ever heard in this, by Ennio Morricone. It’s not a musical score, it’s just another amazing character in the film, it is so beautiful to listen to. I will be buying the soundtrack so I can listen to it again.

I can honestly say, I think this is the perfect movie. I have missed out on a lot of the story and barely even touched the surface of how wonderful this was to watch. I admit, I wasn’t really emotionally ready for it, but I am so glad I have finally seen it.

I think if you love movies, you should see this at least once in your life. If you ever remember going to the cinema as a child, sat there, wide-eyed and loved the excitement and adventure you saw on the silver screen, you will like how this movie touches on that nostalgia.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars! I cannot fault it and I have not seen a movie that has moved me this much for many years! I will watch this again but be more emotionally ready for the next time.

If you haven’t seen it before I can’t urge you enough to see it, at least just once… it should be on every movie-goers list of Movies to See Before They Die.

This is now easily in my top 5 movies I have ever seen.

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