Cinema Paradiso (1988)

The Ultimate Movie Lover’s Movie

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Cinema Paradiso perfectly captures the obsessive and domineering power cinema has over its dedicated fans and their lives. Just like how our main child protagonist Toto becomes enchanted and engulfed by the movies, Cinema Paradiso is a movie which succeeds in doing just that. Cinema Paradiso takes the viewer back to a time when the movie theatre was at the heart of the community (where people would even jerk it and have sex in the middle of a crowded theater?! – Must be a European thing). Cinema Paradiso is my favourite foreign language film and what a rich experience it is. The music, scenery and vibrant architecture of Sicily immediately draw me in (man, Italians are so over the top) – I simply enjoy the essence of being there and I’d happily watch the movie without the subtitles on.

The movie follows the relationship between Toto and his Freudian father figure Alfredo, a projectionist at the local cinema. Alfredo himself is very much a mythical character; he has no back-story or even a surname, yet he succeeds in being one of the most unforgettable characters in film history. He is a man who appears to have never made much for himself in life; ultimately a bit of a loser. This is one aspect of the story which really punches me in the gut; Alfredo prevents Toto from going down the same road as he did but as the cost of never having to see him again. It works and especially in the director’s cut in which we learn Toto has become a famous filmmaker – wouldn’t we all want an Alfredo in our lives?

Did I mention Cinema Paradiso is the saddest movie of all time – fact. I recommend wearing a life jacket while watching this movie or you will drown in your own tears. This is one few films that give me teary-eyed goosebumps even thinking about it, or by listening to Ennio Morricone’s score on (one of few scores I can listen to fully on repeat). I hate to imagine how much of a nihilist one would have to be not moved by the scene in which Alfredo makes a projected image travel along the walls and into the town square to the booming music.

For the original Italian release or director’s cut, the film had a run time of 173 minutes, for the international release it was cut to 124 minutes. I have to say however I greatly prefer the cut version. The director’s cut examines the romantic relationship between characters Toto and Elena in much more detail, turning what is a subplot in cut version into a main focus of the story and while interesting to see the loose ends and the explained justification for Alfredo’s actions, it does cause the movie to drag and in turn creating a version of the film with less emotional impact, whereas the cut version is a perfectly paced film. It also takes away some of the mystery posed by the shorter version, showing that some stories are best left untold and not everything has to be explained. I still feel the longer version is worth watching but it has made me dubious of director’s cuts.

Anyone passionate about cinema can’t afford to miss Cinema Paradiso (that being unless you’re a hardcore cynic, then this film will send you into a fit of rage) but aside from being a tribute to cinema, the film is full of emotions for nostalgia of childhood and youth, love and the losses we have to deal with during our lives. Like the stamp of any truly great film, Cinema Paradiso is a movie which you don’t want to end.  The cut version of Cinema Paradiso is Cinema Perfecto.

International Cut – 10/10

Director’s Cut – 7/10