When did you first fall in love with movies? For Toto watching movies in the cinema is how one passes their time in the small village of Giancaldo, Sicily. It was a few years after WWII when young Toto (short for Salvatore Di Vita) regularly barge into Cinema Paradiso’s projection room after school. There works Alfredo, the projectionist who later make Toto his protégé. He taught young Toto how to work the projector machines and make sure it doesn’t catches fire. During this time as well that young Toto fell in love with the magic of cinema; he will recites movies dialogue by looking at roll films. One night, Alfredo’s nightmare came true when the highly flammable film reels explode and destroys the cinema and leaving Alfredo blind from the damage. Young Toto was then “hired” as the projectionist (since no one else understand how to work one) at the nuovo (new/rebuilt) Cinema Paradiso, where he works until he departs for Rome.
Cinema Paradiso is a two-hour long movie that dealt with many issues ranging from childhood, coming of age, post-modern cinema, young love, family, poverty and nostalgia. The concept of nostalgia works well here, which is shown through series of flashbacks by the older Toto who is now a famous Italian filmmaker residing in Rome. The script is also playful since it balances the drama and comedy. For instance: the local priest, who act as the censor board, will ring his church bell when he sees a kissing scene and signal Alfredo to edit it before showtime. However, once the cinema is rebuilt after the fire, no one is there to censored them and this causes the audience to go wild – symbolizing the transition between the old era and the modern. Saying that, Cinema Paradiso is a foreign film with foreign quirks where unusual scenes are to be expected, such as breastfeeding in public or characters talking in hyperbole manner.
Director Giuseppe Tornatore (who also directed Malèna) has a unique sense of direction. The main focus of the movie is the relationship between Toto and Alfredo, a father figure who gives him advice from old John Wayne’s movies. But it also explore the relationship between Toto and his hometown. You can clearly feel the small town vibe here through the architectures and locale culture as well as the background score.
Young Salvatore Cascio is adorable as young Toto, where else Marco Leonardi is amusing as teenage Toto in love. However the main star is French actor Philippe Noiret (who speaks French during shooting but was dubbed later) as the loveable Alfredo. It was a tearjerker moment when old Toto watch the kissing scenes montage Alfredo has compiled for him throughout the years, stating that romance with cinema is eternal and in a way hilarious when you realize there is nothing provocative about kissing scenes.
For some, watching movies is an act of escapism like the villagers in Cinema Paradiso, but for others (mostly a few) movies represent more than just an entertainment – its an indulging phenomenon that you can’t possibly explained. “Life isn’t like in the movies. Life… is much harder,” said Alfredo to Toto. I agree, but sometimes movies are what makes life worth your while, no?