Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

By Eric Jessen 6/30/09

As a little boy, Toto, peeks his head through the curtains of an empty theater at the Cinema Paradiso in a small village in Sicily, a priest sits alone watching his weekly movie holding a small bell. The priest is waiting anxiously to ring the bell every time Jean Gabin and Jany Holt from Renoir's The Lower Depths or two actors in one of Visconti's melodramas approach each other, slowly, and kiss. This is a signal for the lonely illiterate projectionist, Alfredo, to cut out this piece of the film. This is just one of the many beautiful scenes from Cinema Paradiso. Here's another. When the townspeople are denied entrance to the Cinema Paradiso, an angry mob forms and demands to see its film. So Alfredo points the projector out the window, saying movies “pass through walls”, and the mob watches its movie on a house wall in the town square. These scenes represent the romanticism of the movies that Cinema Paradiso understands
Cinema Paradiso does something that few movies are able to accomplish. It captures the magic and sense of wonder in film. Yes, it has its flaws, its cliché moments and a predictable “silly boy falls for dreamy eyed girl” element of the story. But its early scenes with Phillipe Noiret as Alfredo and Salvatore Cascio as Toto are simply amazing. The two actors are spectacular together. It's too bad the movie had to divert from them. As the actors that play Toto get older they get less interesting. The scenes with Toto as an adolescent and an elder are useless, awkward, routine movie drivel. It's also a shame that Cinema Paradiso had to revert to mush when one of its best scenes was abruptly ended when the nitrate film burst into flames, leaving Alfredo blind and a sad sac for the rest of the movie.
And yet, despite it flaws, I cherish this films early scenes. Yes, they're a bit overwrought, especially thanks to Ennio Morricone's score, but I still love them. They have nostalgia for the movies that is both beautiful and sad. This film is a reminder of how glorious and important the movies used to be. These poor villagers in Sicily pined for their weekly entertainment of watching the priests' cut of everything from John Wayne to Charles Chaplin on the biggest of screens. The few poignant scenes in the last passages of the movie point out how TV and other new mediums have led to the demise of the Cinema Paradiso. I wish there were still rowdy, crowded, smoke filled theaters that show old movies like the Cinema Paradiso.

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