For the Love of Cinema – A review of Cinema Paradiso (1988)

For the Love of Cinema – A review of Cinema Paradiso (1988)

“Whatever you do, do it with love.”

Alfredo (Cinema Paradiso, 1988)

My rating – 10/10  

Movies have been an integral part of my life since I was a kid. I don’t think I have enough words to describe my love for cinema. My earliest memory of watching movies is when I was about six years old. During the school holidays, I’d get up early in the morning to watch movies broadcasted on local TV channels. My father, who loves movies just as much as I do, used to bring CDs, and my siblings and I would watch them all day. Looking back, some of my happiest moments have been watching movies with my siblings and family. I believe this is why Cinema Paradiso (also known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) is one of my favourite movies ever.    

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the 1988 Italian movie  Cinema Paradiso, is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I am clearly not alone in my opinion – the film regularly appears in “best movies of all time” lists and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1989. Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the film is a love letter to cinema.     

Cinema Paradiso explores the life of Salvatore Di Vita (nicknamed Toto) in his boyhood, teenage years, and adulthood. The film begins with Adult Toto (Jacques Perrin), now a famous filmmaker receiving a call from his mother saying that his mentor and father figure, Alfredo, has passed away. Through flashbacks, the audience is shown Toto as a child (Salvatore Cascio) and a teenager (Marco Leonardi).    

Set in Giancaldo, a small town in Sicily, Toto forms a friendship with the town’s titular cinema theatre’s projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). While watching a movie, young Toto is fascinated by the little hole in the wall from where Alfredo projects the film. Toto has already fallen in love with watching movies (at one point, his mother bans him from watching movies after he spends all the milk money on them), and he begs Alfredo to teach him. At first, Alfredo is reluctant, but Toto manages to change his mind. This is the start of a beautiful relationship. Toto, who lost his father in the Second World War, finds a father figure in Alfredo. From his young days to his teenage years, Alfredo becomes an unwavering pillar of support to Toto. He gives him life advice, teaches everything he knows, and encourages him to leave the town and pursue his dreams in Rome.   

Tornatore wrote the script based on his childhood town’s cinema theatre and his love for cinema. The screenplay is witty and gives life to so many interesting characters that are fascinating to watch. Some of them are; the town priest – who comes with a bell to the theatre and rings whenever there’s a kissing scene so that Alfredo will cut them before projecting them to the people, the man who lives in the main square and yells at people claiming it’s “(his) square”, and the character who recites all the lines by memory and the man who sleeps during films and the people who try to wake him up. Just as it is a love letter to cinema, Tornatore wanted the film to be a tribute to cinema theatres. In Giancaldo, people come in droves to watch movies with their babies and children in tow. It is a joyful sight to see; they yell, laugh, and bond as a community while watching a movie. Some meet at the theatre and fall in love. One of my favourite scenes is when the town sees a kiss on screen for the first time, and the crowd goes bonkers! It is important to remember the film is set in a time when people are grieving after the events of the Second World War, so watching movies together is also healing to them. This goes on to show how films can heal and bring people together.   

A special mention should be given to Ennio Morricone’s moving score. It is heart-rendering and achingly beautiful. Even as I write this, I can hear it in my mind. I want this review to be spoiler-free, so I will not go into details, but I believe Cinema Paradiso  has one of  cinema’s most moving and memorable endings. I was sobbing by the end of it.   

I think the word “masterpiece” is often thrown around when describing films, but Cinema Paradiso in particular  deserves to be called one. It explores man’s strong connection to cinema, nostalgia, loss, love, and childhood magnificently. Watching this reminded me of myself when I was little, waking up early in the morning to watch movies. Cinema Paradiso is a must-see for every movie lover.   

Rtr. Kusali Rupasinghe

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Kavindi Gunawardena

One of the best movies ever.. loved the review

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B. Goldberg

Thank you for the loving tribute to this truly wonderful film. I had the pleasure of seeing it upon its original release, and again, just now, over 35 years later. That the gap in time, not unlike Toto’s in the story, allowed me to view it from an entirely different perspective.

What touched me with this viewing (in particular) were the scenes of Toto returning home after so many years, at once dismayed by the changes , but equally surprised by how many of his memories were immediately rekindled. This was something that struck close to home for me, and gave me a reason to love the film all over again.

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