Cinema Paradiso
(Italy, 1988)

In the North American market, there are two versions of Cinema Paradiso available. The first, released domestically in 1990, is a slimmed-down, trimmed-down version that was subjected to major cuts by Miramax Films to get it close to the two-hour running length. The second, the so-called "Director's Cut," arrived briefly in theaters during 2002 before being ushered onto DVD. The extended version is actually the one that was released in Europe during the late-'80s, so the 2002 edition was just a case of North America coming up to speed with the rest of the world. There's something to be said in favor of both cuts. The 1990 one is faster-paced and more concise, but leaves a major question unanswered: What about Elena? The 2002 one requires a little more patience, but is ultimately more rewarding. Cinema Paradiso is one of those movies that evokes powerful feelings of nostalgia, even for those who weren't around during the time period it depicts. Watching this movie, I wished (however momentarily) I had lived in that small town in Italy during the first half of the 20th century. The film is also about the love affair that we romantic human beings have with movies. I have said it before and I'll say it again: the kissing montage in Cinema Paradiso is one of my five favorite clips from any movie made at any time by any director in any genre. It is remarkable and has, on more than one occasion, brought tears to my eyes. Anyone who has skipped this movie because of a dislike of subtitles has done themselves a disservice. Go out, rent the DVD, and give yourself over to the experience. 30 minutes into the movie, you'll forget you're reading. By the end, you'll swear it was in English. How many non-English language films are that absorbing?

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Most of Cinema Paradiso is told through flashbacks. As the film opens, we meet Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), a famous director, who has just received the news that an old friend has died. Before departing for his home village of Giancaldo the next morning to attend the funeral, he reminisces about his childhood and adolescence, thinking back to places and people he hasn't seen for decades. As a fatherless child, Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) loved the movies. He would abscond with the milk money to buy admission to a matinee showing at the local theater, a small place called the Cinema Paradiso. The Paradiso became his home, and the movies, his parents. Eventually, he developed a friendship with the projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), a lively middle-aged man who offered advice on life, romance, and how to run a movie theater. Salvatore worked as Alfredo's unpaid apprentice until the day the Paradiso burned down. When a new cinema was erected on the same site, an adolescent Salvatore (Marco Leonardi) became the projectionist. But Alfredo, now blind because of injuries sustained in the fire, remained in the background, filling the role of confidante and mentor to the boy he loved like a son. When Salvatore fell for a girl named Elena (Agnese Nano), and his deeply-felt passion wasn't reciprocated, he sought Alfredo's advice, then made the bold decision to stand outside of Elena's window every night until she relented. In the end, love won out, but Salvatore's joy was replaced by sadness after Elena vanished forever from his life.

If you love movies, it's impossible not to appreciate Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore's heartwarming, nostalgic look at one man's love affair with film, and the story of a very special friendship. Affecting (but not cloying) and sentimental (but not sappy), Cinema Paradiso is the kind of motion picture that can brighten up a gloomy day and bring a smile to the lips of the most taciturn individual. Light and romantic, this fantasy is tinged with just enough realism to make us believe in its magic, even as we are enraptured by its spell. Cinema Paradiso affects us on many levels, but its strongest connection is with our memories. We relate to Salvatore's story not just because he's a likable character, but because we relive our own childhood movie experiences through him. Who doesn't remember the first time they sat in a theater, eagerly awaiting the lights to dim? There has always been a certain magic associated with the simple act of projecting a movie on a screen. Tornatore taps into this mystique, and that, more than anything else, is why Cinema Paradiso is a great motion picture.

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