Monday, July 21, 2008

Target #224: Nuovo cinema Paradiso / Cinema Paradiso (1988, Giuseppe Tornatore)

TSPDT placing: #342
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by: Giuseppe Tornatore (story)(screenplay), Vanna Paoli (collaborating writer)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

Filmmakers often possess a deeper passion that is noticeably reflected in their work. However, there is one passion that all directors inevitably share, and that is for cinema itself. Films like Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and, more recently, Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind (2008), exhibit such affection towards movies and movie-making that no film-lover can help but like them. In 1988, Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore released Nuovo cinema Paradiso / Cinema Paradiso, his personal ode to the magic of movies and the humble small-town cinema. After a poor local performance, the film was sheered down to 123 minutes (from 155 minutes), and subsequently went on to win both the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. In 2002, a 170-minute director's cut {marketed in the United States as Cinema Paradiso: The New Version}, which restored all of the original future, was released into theatres. As the director's cut was the only version to which I had ready access, this was the one that I watched for the first time. The director's cut is notable in that it greatly expands on Alfred's role in Toto's life and career.

In the hustle-and-bustle of modern Rome, acclaimed film director Salvatore "Toto" Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) returns home to a sad message from his elderly mother: "Alfredo has died." During the night, the man reflects on his childhood, when, as a bright and fervent young boy (played by Salvatore Cascio), he used to frequent his small town's local cinema, where the friendly projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) taught him, however reluctantly, the tricks of the trade. Flash forward several years, and Toto is now a mature and intelligent teenager, falling for the first (and only) time into the throes of young love. Though I have not seen the shortened theatrical version, from what I've been able to gather, the story doesn't delve too deeply into the adventures of the adult Toto. In the director's cut, most of the additional running time is dedicated to his home-town return, as he is drawn almost overwhelmingly into the regretful ghosts of his past. These sequences are, of course, not without interest, but Tornatore is at his strongest in the first act, with Toto as an impressionable young boy immersed in the joy of cinema.

Philippe Noiret is wonderful as the warm and occasionally brusque film projectionist, and his interactions with Toto (especially young Salvatore Cascio) develop into a powerful father-son relationship. The director's cut intriguingly suggests that Alfred deliberately mislead Toto about Elena (Agnese Nano, later Brigitte Fossey) in order to preserve his chances of succeeding with his #1 love of all, movies. Alfred suspected that, had Toto married Elena, he would never have been able to become an accomplished film director – as a beloved father figure for the boy, he made the difficult decision that Toto could never have made. The ethical complications of Alfred's decision are problematic, but one can at least follow his logic, and his motives, however misguided, were certainly well-intended. At the film's end, as the adult Toto is doubting his love for cinema, his passion is reassured with a wonderful montage of the romantic moments that the town's prudish priest had once sliced from every film to be screened in his theatre. This is the magic of cinema. It's not just the films themselves, but also the flood of personal memories that accompanies each forbidden screen embrace.

Currently my #2 film of 1988:
1) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis)
2) Nuovo cinema Paradiso {Cinema Paradiso} (Giuseppe Tornatore)
3) Rain Man (Barry Levinson)
4) Die Hard (John McTiernan)
5) Koshka, kotoraya gulyala sama po sebe {The Cat Who Walked by Herself} (Ideya Garanina)

What others have said:
"Tornatore's movie is a reminder of the scenes in Truffaut's Day for Night, where the young boy steals a poster of Citizen Kane. We understand that the power of the screen can compensate for a deprived life and that young Salvatore is not apprenticing himself to a projectionist, but to the movies. Once that idea has been established, the film begins to reach for its effects, and there is one scene in particular - a fire in the booth - that has the scent of desperation about it, as if Tornatore despaired of his real story and turned to melodrama."
Roger Ebert, March 16, 1990

"But, for the most part, this hamfisted movie is very enjoyable. Despite his crowding of the film with familiar Italian-character cutouts (screaming parents, admonishing priests, masturbating boys and, yes, even a town idiot), screenwriter/director Tornatore gives these and other cliches an entertaining flow, a certain Mediterranean deliriousness. His excessive spirit is given appropriately sentimental swirl by scorer Ennio Morricone, and comely authority by cinematographer Blasco Giurato, who floods Paradiso with exquisite compositions."
Desson Howe, February 16, 1990

"Telling the story of a young boy’s relationship to a projectionist and, more importantly, to popular film, it never is afraid to simplify itself further so that no one watching feels left out of its banality. When the young boy’s mentor tells him not to give into nostalgia, the sentiment feels laughable considering this film’s reverence to all things wistful. There are never-ending emotional climaxes here, but the film drags on despite the fact that things keep happening quickly."

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