In case you were not already aware, the makers of Cinema Paradiso wanted you to know just how acclaimed their film happens to be. So, before the film itself starts there’s something akin to a credit roll with a long list of awards and acclaims the film has received since its release in 1988. To say that it is a film held in high regard would be a terribly unfair understatement. The movie is an undisputed classic and for good reason.
The film tells the story of one Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita, played by three different actors representing three stages of his life. Salvatore Cascio plays the young boy. Marco Leonardi plays the teenage years. And Jacques Perrin plays the elder version of Toto.
Toto grew up in a small Sicilian village. There he was always attracted to the local movie house called the Cinema Paradiso. He befriends the theater’s long-time projectionist Alfredo (Noiret). The man is a bit gruff and tries to shoo young Toto away from the booth, but the boy’s persistence eventually gets the best of the old man. He begins to teach him the craft after many warnings that it was a horrible job. Of course, Alfredo never really thinks so. When an unfortunate accident ends Alfredo’s ability to perform his duties the young boy, no more than 10, takes over the job. There he spends the next couple of decades of his life. He pursues a young lady that he never quite catches and revels in the enjoyment the theater brings to the poor village.
Eventually, the time comes and Toto, encouraged by Alfredo, leaves the village to go to school and eventually find a career and life. Alfredo practices some tough love and admonishes Toto never to return to the village again. He promises never to see him if he returns. Toto takes those words to heart to the point of even ignoring his own mother. That is until he receives word that Alfredo has died. Now the successful Professor Salvatore Di Vita returns home to deal with his memories.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more moving film about film itself. It’s obvious from the start that writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore is really talking about himself here. There is an obvious passion for film that has shaped his own life in such a way that it can’t help but inform the character of Toto. If you’re reading this review, chances are that you share that love of cinema. This movie was made specifically for you. It’s hard to imagine any true lover of the medium could be unmoved by what you see here.
Tornatore isn’t just moving us with the relationship between Toto and Alfredo, although it is one of the most touching relationships since Hemmingway brought us the old man and the boy in his classic The Old Man And The Sea. There is a striking similarity between these two pairs. But there is so much more to this film. The shooting locations in Bagharia, Sicily are striking indeed. This provides just the right atmosphere to tell this kind of a story. We get to see the village evolve over time and find ourselves just as disappointed in the modern changes that Toto finds upon his return after 30 years. We’re just as saddened as he is to see a gas station in the community square and the decayed derelict of the once proud Cinema Paradiso.
The performances of all of the incarnations of Toto are just as extraordinary. I was most fond of the youngest version. The real attraction in the acting department has to be Philippe Noiret as the grizzled projectionist Alfredo. I grew up with family members who reminded me of the character, a true testament to the authenticity you’ll find here. You never doubt his love for the boy no matter how many times he tries to push him away. You never doubt his love for the job no matter how often he describes it as almost a personal failure.
The film sets the stage for an emotional ending that I dare not give away here. It is the perfect homage to that relationship and one of the most moving moments in a movie I’ve ever encounter. Tornatore is speaking from the heart, and that’s why this film just doesn’t miss. If you call yourself a film lover, this one is a must have. There was a 3-hour cut that even enjoyed a limited theatrical run. I’ve heard that it takes away from the film’s impact, and I believe it. This cut works perfectly as is and is the one to own.
Cinema Paradiso is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20-25 mbps. Unfortunately, there is a ton of print damage. If ever a film deserves a restoration project, this one certainly does. Until then you’ll have to accept that this is likely as good as it gets. Overall, the high-definition image presentation does justice to the film’s atmosphere and original cinematography. Colors are natural, if slightly desaturated.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is in Italian. There is no English track to be found here. It does a solid job of bringing out the dialog and the soundtrack. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, just as it should be.
They say you can’t go back home again because that place only exists in your memories. This film certainly explores that theme. But it’s really about the relationship forged between these two characters and their shared love of the cinema that makes this movie unforgettable. The movie explores memories, but this is one memory you won’t have to relive in your head. The Blu-ray release allows you to come back as often as you like. And you will come back. Yet, in spite of all of these complicated themes there’s one thing that is always front and center: “movies, always the movies“.