Tuesday, January 3, 2017

1989 Winner, Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso

Director:  Giuseppe Tornatore 

Distributed by:  Miramax Films 

Released:  November 1988

Country:  Italy

As with most technological improvements, advancements in movie-making and movie-watching bring with them an unforeseen downside.  Availability is one of those advancements.  Nowadays, even foreign films from 25 years ago can be found on DVD by going on Amazon or just using a library card.  You can stream movies by using a remote control in your living room (and by “you” I mean "not me"; I’m still not trained in the art of Netflix or Hulu or any of that kind of stuff).  But the price of this availability is, simply put, the Movie Theater.  I’m not talking about the multiplexes with 20 or more movies being shown at the same time; I mean the old movie houses where huge crowds would all watch the same movie together as a community experience.

The Cinema Paradiso is one of those movie houses.  In post-World War II Italy, Alfredo is the
Toto checking out some deleted scenes
theater’s projectionist, at a time when being so was more of a profession than a job.  But the star of the film is Salvatore, a 5-year-old who lost his father in the war and loves to hang out at the theater.  Salvatore, or Toto as he is called, is a handful, both to Alfredo, who considers him a pest, and to the local priest, who can’t get Toto to be a proper altar boy.  The movie is told in flashback, as the adult Toto learns of the death of Alfredo, who had grown to be a father figure to him.

Early in the film, Alfredo is pre-screening a film for the priest—and whenever a kissing scene shows up, the priest rings his bell, an indication for Alfredo to mark the film for cutting.  No kissing is aloud to be shown to the masses.  When the films are screened to the public, the crowd lustily boos and jeers, good-naturedly expressing its anger at the Church censorship.  Toto, the film lover who will grow up to be a successful director, wonders about the scenes being cut, which eventually leads to the film’s famous and touching finish.

Annoying kid in an American film
Where to begin on what is good about this film?  First, young Salvatore Cascio is terrific as a little boy full of mischief yearning for a male figure in his life.  There is something about young kids in foreign films that American films don’t seem to have—Toto, the young boy in Life is Beautiful, the youngest son in Journey of Hope, the granddaughter in Antonia’s Line—these kids show a charming endearing quality that the annoying wise-ass Macaulay Culkins (Home Alone) turn into obnoxiousness in American films.  (Add to the list of charming kid performances that of the boy from the “foreign language” Calcutta part of the current film Lion.)  The first part of Cinema Paradiso is worth watching just for Toto, and for his relationship with Alfredo, who sees greatness in him.

Adult Toto loving the cinema
But the heart of the movie is in its love of movies themselves and the movie-going experience.  The cinema, and to a lesser extent, the theater that is the Cinema Paradiso, are what bring people together in war-weary ItalyMost especially, the theater brings Alfredo and Toto together at a time both need it.  I think of theater-going as when I have to contend with the older people behind me loudly pointing out the actors they recognize, or the younger people texting their BFF's while the movie is showing. At the Cinema Paradiso, a lot of the fun is the crowd laughing or jeering or even sitting mesmerized  together as a community.

The story, the characters and acting, and great cinematography are all perfect here.  Director Giuseppe Tornatore, who has made three English-language films and several noted Italians films since, made it difficult on himself to top this film made at the beginning of his career.  The score by his frequent collaborator, the brilliant composer Ennio Morricone  (perhaps most famous to Americans for the scores of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and The Mission)is perhaps one of his best, and that's saying something.   

I’m not sure all the films Alfredo showed from the projection room of the Cinema Paradiso were great films, but if they were half as good as Cinema Paradiso, the huge movie house would be packed every night.

The Title:  The Italian name of the movie is Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, or New Paradise Cinema.

The Culture:  A great look at small-town Italy right after World War II.

Agenda Danger:  Whatever commentary may be derived from the over-protective and controlling Catholic priest is more than offset by the humor of Toto’s interactions with him and the emotional ending.

Best Picture that year: Driving Miss Daisy

Rating:  Italian cinema is noteworthy for so many great films, like Life is Beautiful (1998), The Bicycle Thieves (1948), and the works of Fellini (such as 1963’s 8 ½ and 1960’s La Dolce Vita).  This film takes a back seat to none of them.  It's a movie about loving the movies that makes you love movies even more. 

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