A simple trick to tell if a film is a good one, is if it could have very easily been a bad one. Cinema Paradiso, is one of these films. The plot is simple, classic if not at times predictable, and also very slow. Not very much happens: there are no gunfights, any romance is very short lived, and much of the movie is devoted to scenes of people watching movies. Yet, it is captivating and enjoyable all the same. This is because there is another way to tell if a movie is good, and that is if it was made with love.
At the beginning of the movie, an Italian mother tries to contact her son who has been gone for a very long time. His sister is skeptical that the worldly man will return to his humble village, but his mother knows he will come home. Now a successful director in Rome, the man in question, comes back to his apartment where he learns that someone called Alfredo has died and that his mother wishes him to return for the funeral. He lays down to sleep, but in his face we can see pain. What follows for the rest of the film, is the explanation of this pain, through extended flashbacks.
Cinema Paradiso is a movie about love. Loving movies, loving another, and loving the past, are just a few things we learn about love alongside the film’s young hero, Salvatore, and his mentor, the projectionist Alfredo. We glimpse Salvatore as a young man and as an adult, but the scenes of him as a boy are the ones that truly shine. It is clear that movies really mean something to Salvatore, especially when, on the way back from finding out about his father’s death, he passes a movie poster for Gone with the Wind and smiles. After all, Alfredo has told him that his father once looked just like Clark Gable.
In fact, the movies mean everything to everyone in this small, Italian town. Hordes flock there to watch, to sleep, to rendezvous, all seeking something. It’s clear that this passion comes from Director Giuseppe Tornatore’s own experience for only someone with a deep personal connection to a movie theater like the Paradiso would be able to flesh out long scenes of people watching something else, and keep them interesting. The people we see, sneaking treats, kisses, and tears, as their eyes remained fixed upon the movie screen, must be real people from Tornatore’s own past. They are people whose own love of cinema equals his own, and left an impact.
There is a romance in the film, yes, but it is almost uninteresting, and quite upstaged when juxtaposed against the love story of this town and its cinema. When, during a particularly crowded night, a mob of people is being denied access to the theater, Alfredo uses a trick to project the film out across the square, we can truly feel this love in all its shining glory.In Roger Ebert’s 1990 review of the film, he mentions seeing a similar trick in action in Venice in 1972, which furthers the point that Tornatore’s film is almost autobiographical. (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/cinema-paradiso-1990) This scene is particularly beautiful because it is as if Alfredo is a lighthouse keeper, breaking up the darkness, guiding the the people of this small italian town home. Lest we forget, since the story is filtered through the gaze of a naive protagonist, the film is set in post World War II, a difficult time for any country, let alone Italy. The Paradiso, and by extension Alfredo, became a beacon, of hope, and moving picture.
When the film comes to a conclusion, after two hours of what is mostly flashback, we are offered a glimpse of what such love as we have seen can do, for Salvatore, his town, and even Italy. When he finally receives his inheritance of sorts from Alfredo, we see how the strength of love can not only offer comfort through dark times, but also healing.
–Anne Peyton Brothers