Cinema Paradiso

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What it’s about

Cinema Paradiso is the story of the relationship between Toto, a young Italian boy who needs a father figure, and the local cinema projectionist, Alfredo, who assumes that role. Brought together through their shared love of the inner workings of the local cinema, they remain fast friends throughout Toto’s youth up until Toto’s departure from the small Italian city where they live.

What I like about it

After a brief opening scene, the film starts with a flashback sequence that begins in the church and then quickly transitions to the local cinema where the town priest, the sole audience member, rings a bell to signal portions of the film he deems unsuitable for public display. These portions are cut out by Alfredo and then either spliced back in before the film is returned or left on the cutting room floor, effectively censoring objectionable scenes from community viewing. As sources of stories and points of view, both institutions play a vital role in the community, reflecting internal community changes as well as external changes via the movies and newsreels. It’s a fascinating view of the significance of a theater at that time to such a community. The movies shown at Cinema Paradiso are not so much “a” form of entertainment as they are “the” form of entertainment and the cinema itself a meeting place not just for watching movies but for activities as diverse as sleeping, carrying on clandestine affairs, reinforcing class boundaries, and providing fodder for the shenanigans of the local boys.

The film is described in the Wiki entry as “nostalgic postmodernism.” I don’t know about the “postmodernism,” but the film does a superb job of  building in 123 minutes a sense of nostalgia developed over 30 years, and that is as good a testimony to the magic of film as anyone is ever likely to achieve.

Who else likes it

Everybody: The film won awards at Cannes, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and the Academy. It has a 90% critic rating, and a 97% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

P.S.- Recommend staying away from the “extended cut” remake.  I shouldn’t, I guess, because I haven’t seen it, but apparently it “fixes” the decision to avoid over sentimentality by not revealing the mystery of what happened to Elena, the love Toto leaves behind when he departs for compulsory military service.

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