Film: Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.
Movie blogging is something of an incestuous pastime. What I mean is that several times a week, I put my ramblings up on this site and every month I get something like 4000 hits of people reading, or at least glancing at what I’ve written. The bulk of these people (like you reading this now) are fellow movie bloggers. Or, at least the bulk of my commenters are bloggers. Additionally, the vast majority of blogs that I read are movie blogs, and most of my comments are on such blogs. I can’t say we are a tight community, but we are a fanatical one.
I say this because today’s film is for them. Today’s film was created by a man who loves film dearly and desperately like a parent loves a child and was made for people who feel the same way. Cinema Paradiso (sometimes called Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) is about the magic of film, the joy and pain and heartache of movies. It is about why we love them and why they are so important to us. They matter, and they matter in a way that we can’t quite fathom or fully express in words. And so, Cinema Paradiso is there to say these things for us.
Essentially, a boy named Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio as a child, Marco Leonardi as a teen, and Jacques Perrin as an adult), called Toto by everyone, becomes entranced with movies at a young age. He pesters Alfredo (Philippe Noriet) who runs the projector at the local movie house, the Cinema Paradiso, to teach him everything. And Alfredo does. When the theater catches fire, it is Toto who saves the old man, but not in time to rescue his eyesight. Now blind, Alfredo gives over his job to Toto, who runs the projector in the newly remodeled theater. Toto grows up, and eventually leaves, pursuing a career as a director. He never returns to his home town for 30 years until he hears that Alfredo has died, and he goes back for the funeral, and in many ways relives these early days and his early infatuation with movies.
The bulk of the film is told in flashback—it opens with the death of Alfredo, and doesn’t return to this for quite a long time. I don’t want to get more involved in the plot here; this is a movie that should not be spoiled for anyone.
Cinema Paradiso is to film as Tampopo is to food—a love poem. For Toto, and for us in the film, the movies are everything. They are our source of wisdom, our hopes, and our dreams fulfilled. They are joy and life, pain and sadness, loss and discovery and everything else. The teach us all of life’s lessons and instruct us. They give us meaning, enlighten us, and provide us with a reason to go on.
So here’s what I want to know: why the hell didn’t I see this 20 years ago? Why did I wait this long? Why didn’t anyone tell me how beautiful and magical this film is, and if they did, why didn’t I listen to them?
Obviously, I like this film a lot.
Films about film aren’t that rare. Plenty of films tread the ground of self-reference in this way, and a lot of them are worth watching. A rare few are enchanting and special and beautiful and will entertain anyone, but offer something more, something hidden for those who have a connection to it. Film lovers have that connection with this film in a way that those who don’t live and die with the flickering light of a movie projector do not. It is a charming and beautiful film for anyone, but most especially for those who feel that same connection to film as Toto does.
The ending of this film is one of the most emotionally perfect moments I have ever seen. It is also one of the most moving things I have experienced in a film, and I am not ashamed to admit that I got pretty misty-eyed at it.
Cinema Paradiso is a wonder. If you haven’t seen this, go watch it now. Find a copy—rent it, borrow it, steal it if you have to, and take it home and watch it. This is a film that will make you fall in love with movies all over again.
Why to watch Cinema Paradiso: If you love film, this will be one of your favorite films.
Why not to watch: Someone has removed all semblance of intelligence, taste, and reason from your brain.