Cinema Paradiso (1989)
Cinema Paradiso (1989)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 1 min.

Release Date: May 19th, 1989 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore Actors: Jacques Perrin, Brigitte Fossey, Philippe Noiret, Marco Leonardi, Agnese Nano, Salvatore Cascio




esky little altar boy Toto (Salvatore Cascio) loves the movies. He spends most of his time in the theater, resulting in routine scoldings by his mother when he neglects his chores. She despises his obsession, especially when it leads to a fire in their house that nearly kills his sister. His mother also struggles with the absence of her husband, an Italian man sent to Russia during World War II, still officially missing. Six-year-old Toto’s best friend is an elderly projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who runs the Cinema Paradiso under the control of Father Adelfio, who strictly enforces the cutting of all inappropriate scenes (of kissing) from the films shown there.

When the theater accidentally burns down, recently wealthy villager Ciccio pays to have it completely rebuilt, giving back to the people and providing the only form of entertainment the small town of Giancaldo (in Sicily) knows – and also allowing, for the first time, physical affection and flashes of skin to be theatrically exhibited. Alfredo is blinded in the fire, but this gives Toto a chance to work in his place. Years later, when Toto is a young adult (now using his full name of Salvatore), he acquires a camera and starts to film things for himself – most importantly, the blue-eyed girl Elena (Agnese Nano) who he spotted at the train station.

“Cinema Paradiso” turns a spotlight onto the incredible influence of motion pictures – how audiences interact and react to them and how they shape the very notions that multitudes possess about love, romance, tragedy, and adventure, thanks to depictions viewers couldn’t otherwise experience. At the same time, Salvatore uses the wisdoms of the fatherly Alfredo – who shares educational quotes from famous films – to conduct his foray into courting. Mirroring the events of a great romantic drama, his life is very much the filmable experience he couldn’t have anticipated or thought to orchestrate – full of interfering destiny, separation from his sweetheart, and sacrificing true love for a successful career. “Life isn’t like in the movies. It’s much harder,” insists Alfredo, intent on pushing Salvatore in the direction of long-term occupational triumphs over fleeting, fanciful happiness.

Although general audiences will certainly find less to appreciate, film enthusiasts will be enchanted by “Cinema Paradiso’s” showcasing of numerous clips and artwork from classic movies, including “Gone With the Wind,” “Ulysses,” “Casablanca,” Raffaello Matarazzo’s “Chains,” and the works of Chaplin, Keaton, Renoir, Monroe, John Wayne, and countless others. Much of the production is spent reminiscing and celebrating the art of filmmaking, full of sentimentality and the simple beauty of a silent onscreen embrace (the final montage is its greatest achievement). On the technical side, zooms, tracking shots, and humorous transitions are prominent, accompanied by powerful music by Ennio Morricone, which is repetitive yet delightful. Although charming and occasionally moving, its substance isn’t overwhelmingly deep, serving more as a lighthearted, idealized, nostalgic coming-of-age tale than a stirring emotional investment. It was enough for the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards, however, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, respectively.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10