BluRay/DVD Reviews

CINEMA PARADISO (1988)

By • Nov 7th, 2006 •

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(AKA Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)

Plot Summary:
After 30 years of success in the big world, Salvatore, now a famous film director, is summoned back to the Sicilian village of his birth to attend the funeral of an old friend and mentor. Before his departure, in a series of poignant, very funny and genuinely tragic flashbacks, he reminisces about his life in the village, his family, his initial fascination and introduction to the wonders of film in his local ‘flea-pit’ cinema (the ‘Cinema Paradiso’ of the title), early friendships and life-lessons, and last but by no means least, a lost love.

This is one of those films you hear made reference to many times and think, yeah, I must catch that one day. People who have seen it can’t believe that you haven’t, so you tell yourself again, yeah, I definitely must catch that one day. Unfortunately that day kept passing me by, but I now believe this was meant to be, for when I did finally catch it a week or so ago, it was a very different film than everybody had been going on about.

I was invited by two ardent fans of the film to watch it with them and we opted to watch the Director’s Cut, with a whopping 50 minutes plus of extra footage, which they had never seen. Normally when you see these boasts of extra footage, they tend not to make a great deal of difference to the end result (here I cite Dances With Wolves as a prime example). Not so with this little beauty. I sat watching absorbedly but also listening to the occasional gasp of ‘that wasn’t mentioned before’, and ‘they didn’t tell you that in the other version’ etc., etc., and apparently there’s almost an entire third act reinstated which delivers several revelations about some of the main characters that adds a darker edge and considerably more depth to events depicted in the version released theatrically.

My friends were unsure about this new/original version. I of course knew no other (apart from the large hints given by their commentary) and was entranced.

The most enjoyable moments to me were the scenes with the child Salvatore (real name in fact Salvatore), or Toto as he is known in the village. A little acting marvel, his face truly lights up brighter than the cinema screen with which he is enraptured, and his scenes with Philippe Noiret as projectionist Alfredo are touching and magical without being overly sentimental (Spielberg could learn a lesson here). I could also have easily believed he would grow up to be the older Salvatore (French actor Jacques Perrin) who returns to the village. The adolescent Salvatore (Marco Leonardi) however bears no resemblance to these two whatsoever and, if I have a complaint, this is it, and so my disbelief was unsuspended for a while.

This notwithstanding, the film is beautifully framed, lensed, and is enhanced immeasurably by an exquisite score by the Morricones which has become a favourite soundtrack for collectors. As with many of Morricone’s scores it was composed based simply on the script and before any filming took place, so that the actors could perform and react to the music and tempos being played in the background of their scenes, a la theatre. According to Tornatore ‘Some of the themes that are now in the film were composed right in front of me during those first few days. His music was an inspiration to everyone’, whilst Morricone himself states ‘The music was born of my collaboration with Giuseppe. It reflects how I was inspired by the story of a boy, in love with a beautiful woman and coming of age in a small town in Sicily. After reading the script I attempted to write music that would aid the film in it’s slow transformation from comedic and ironic to heavily dramatic’. He succeeded beautifully.

The story goes that the original 1988 release received a poor reception with test audiences in Italy and producer Franco Cristaldi insisted, to director and writer Tornatore’s displeasure, that cuts be made. But Tornatore, as a relative unknown, was indebted to Cristaldi and complied by coming up with a two hour version of his story, and it is this version which won the Cannes, Academy and Golden Globe accolades.

Moments to watch for (and there are many) include Leopoldo Trieste’s wonderfully measured performance as Father Adelfio, a fastidious local Priest who piously previews upcoming films to be shown at the early Cinema Paradiso, and who rings a bell as an indication to projectionist Alfredo as to which scenes are to be excised from future public screenings, invariably an on-screen kiss (or anything approaching it), and the powerful and emotional film dénouement where Salvatore receives and views his bequest from Alfredo – a reel of film containing all of these censored screen kisses.

This is classic cinema analyzing it’s own roots and it’s effects on it’s audience and I could go on and on about this rich, gorgeous and vibrant film, but I’ll take a tip from my friends, who finally decided that less is more, and preferred the version they had originally seen, but with the reservation that the extra footage had thrown new light, and in one case a form of closure, on various relationships. Whichever version you choose to watch, which of course you can with this particular presentation, you are assured of viewing a great film (and I don’t use that term loosely).

This 2 disc DVD edition features both the original theatrical version and the Director’s Cut
An embossed, matt laminated digipak with a four-page information booklet
Widescreen Anamorphic (Both Versions)
Dolby Digital Mono (Both Versions)
Languages: Italian
Subtitles: English
Running Time: Theatrical Version 118 Minutes; Director’s Cut 168 Minutes
(Information given relates to the Region 2 release – Region 1 releases may vary)


Credits:
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Producers: Franco Cristaldi, Giovanna Romagnoli
Screenplay: Giuseppe Tornatore
Cinematographer: Blasco Giurato
Music: Ennio Morricone, Andrea Morricone

Cast:
Philippe Noiret: Alfredo
Salvatore Cascio: Salvatore (Child)
Marco Leonardi: Salvatore (Adolescent)
Jacques Perrin: Salvatore (Adult)
Antonella Attili: Maria (Young)
Pupella Maggio: Maria (Old)
Agnese Nano: Elena (Adolescent)
Brigitte Fossey: Elena (Adult) (director’s cut only)
Leopoldo Trieste: Father Adelfio

Awards:
Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival 1989
Academy Award, Best Foreign Language Film, 1990
Golden Globe Award, Best Foreign Language Film, 1990

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