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Vintage Sundays Review: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Raquel Bartra reviews the Italian cinematic masterpiece and explores why it’s considered a timeless classic.

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Image Credit: Palace Pictures

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Marco Leonardi, Agnese Nano
Length: 2h04min
Rating: PG

Cinema Paradiso is a film praised by critics and loved by audiences. In just a few words, this film encompasses the magic of cinema and the excitement of going to the movies, taking the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions, from uncontrollable laughter to moving tears. A story about love for cinema, passion, and dreams, the Italian classic has definitely stood the test of time thirty years after its release.

The story is set after World War Two in Salvatore Di Vita (Toto)’s Sicilian village, where, as a kid, he spends his days sneaking into the Cinema Paradiso to escape from reality. Projectionist Alfredo mentors him from a young age, and he takes over the job when he grows up. After a while, Alfredo convinces Salvatore to leave the small village to chase his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Years later Salvatore is a renowned film director living in Rome, and his past is told as a flashback.

Even though the plot is simple and predictable to an extent, this does not take away from the magic that the film is able to create for the spectator. There are various elements in the film which come together to create a wonderful viewing experience. The tone of the film is - for lack of a better word - perfect. It manages to balance comical moments with the depth of topics of the story such as loss, poverty, tragedy, and nostalgia.

In general, the film is understated, with minimal dialogue which is flawlessly executed by its cast. Alfredo’s character stands up the most, serving the role of a paternal figure to Salvatore, and captivating the audience by reciting more than a handful of film quotes to impart wisdom. An honourable mention must go to Jacques Perrin, the older Salvatore, who although does not get many scenes throughout, is able to carry the weight of the film towards the end.

Moving on to a more technical aspect, the cinematography, although simple, is compelling, using mostly natural lighting and showcasing the charm of old Sicily. The use of music throughout might be the film’s greatest asset, with a brilliant score written by veteran composer Ennio Morricone. The memorable tunes used find a seamless way to convey nostalgia for the duration of the film, with an outstanding capability of bringing the audience to tears once more, just by playing a few chords.

Despite the aforementioned Cinema Paradiso has been not immune to criticism since its release, as some people deem it just an ode to cinema geared towards cinephiles. Although the film is indeed about the power of films and the love Salvatore has for them, it is so much more than that. Cinema Paradiso is about tradition, roots, change, and home. Filled with nostalgia, this is a film anyone who has moved away from home to pursue a dream can relate to, and the passion Salvatore has for cinema is comparable to any other passion.

No words can fully describe the magic of this film and it is no surprise that this timeless classic is still talked about. Thirty years later, Cinema Paradiso still relevant even to younger audiences and will continue to be for a long time.

Editor's note: The film was screened at City Screen York as part of their weekly Vintage Sundays strand.

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