You can so easily get swamped by all the soul-less, money-grabbing amusement park rides masquerading as films these days and forget that there is a real art and magic in cinema. That there are such obscure concepts as plot, acting, characterisation, empathy, meaning… its not all loud explosions, frenetic action, effects-laden spectacle. Thank goodness then for films like Giuseppe Tornatore’s simply beautiful Cinema Paradiso.
I’ve come late to the party on this one. Dating back to 1988, I’ve only now finally watched this, thanks to Arrow Films recent Blu-ray, that features both the theatrical cut and the directors cut which, running nearly an hour longer, I haven’t seen yet.
Cinema Paradiso is a film about life, friendship, the passing of time, the loss of innocence, but mostly its a love story. Set a just after the Second World War in a small, dead-end Sicilian village, a little boy, Toto, enraptured by the silver screen dreams of his village cinema, befriends its life-weary projectionist, Alfredo. Toto’s father is missing from the war, and Alfredo has no children. The projectionist becomes a surrogate father to Toto, the two of them sharing a love for the cinema and the films projected there, a love shared by the whole village that gathers to be swept away from their insular lives of poverty and hopelessness by the silver-screen dreams created worlds away. The film is a poem for the life-changing joy and universal language of cinema, of cinema that means something.
The film has a perfect cast, a finely-judged screenplay, and a poignant score by the great Ennio Morricone. Anybody who loves movies cannot fail to be touched by this film; its the kind of film you can easily fall in love with, seduced by its laughter, sadness and joy as we watch Toto grow up, and witness what becomes of him and his cinema and all the villagers who flocked to the films. I won’t dwell further on the story; its twists and turns are a discovery every viewer should experience without any fore-knowledge.
I’ve no idea if the longer directors cut actually improves the film- is such a thing even possible? I intend to wait a few weeks before watching that version, I’ll let you know what I think then. For now, I’ll just prefer to recall this wonderful film as it is for awhile longer. In an age becoming increasingly Digital, this film is a potent reminder of a time when films were tangible things, things you could touch. Reels of film, dreams stored in steel cans, film which, thanks to the sorcery of a play of light, could suddenly become alive when projected onto simple screens.
I often wonder if the magic of films has been lost a little simply because they have become so mundane- after all, films are everywhere now, we are no longer limited to that communal experience of watching a film in a darkened theatre. Now we can own all the films we like, watch them whenever we like, whatever parts of them we like. They have almost become disposable. In many ways film-lovers have never had it so good as we do now, but perhaps there is something to the argument that films have lost part of their magic by becoming so accessible. Cinema Paradiso is a reminder of a not-so distant time when films were something very rare and special, when you would perhaps watch a great film and then only have it replayable in your memory for years, something to be recalled and savoured. I myself remember those pre-VHS days of Christmas movie seasons on the BBC and ITV, looking for old favourites being shown over the Holiday Season, rare opportunities to revisit them like distant old friends arriving for another Christmas. Well, much of that simple magic has gone. Times have changed, eh?