A Lifetime in Film: 1988 #8 Cinema Paradiso


I’ll admit that it’s kind of a perfect fit to have one of the films that are part of my “A Lifetime in Film” blog series be Cinema Paradiso. It is a film about the love of movies, and spending a lifetime admiring the cinematic craft for what it really does. For director/screenwriter Guiseppe Tornatore, film brings people together, both in platonic and even romantic ways. He is very much interested in how people view a film, how they are affected by it on an emotional and communal level, and how the wonder of moving images holds an indescribable power over the human mind.

cinema_paradiso_xlgOf course, that makes the film sound a bit like homework, but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. Tornatore is smart enough to know that he is in fact making a movie of his own, and without intriguing characters that we can believe in, no message, no matter how sincere, can be taken seriously. So his first goal, which he knocks out of the park is to create endearing and mostly believable characters that immediately won me over. We start with our protagonist Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita (played by three different actors as the film’s story progresses). He falls in love with cinema as a young boy watching the village priest censor movies by cutting out all the kissing and nude scenes out, so they can be shown to the local residents. He forms a close friendship with the cinema projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who reluctantly teaches him the craft of film projection.

As Salvatore grows up, he takes over the role as projectionist after a fateful accident leaves Alfredo unable to do it anymore. As he falls in love with the work, he also falls in love with a girl – Elena (Agnese Nano) which obviously complicates things. The central relationship of the film is between Toto and Alfredo. And between the local cinema and the various viewers who frequent it.

That relationship and the film as a whole made me think about my relationship with cinema. I still remember my first theater experience back in 1997. I was 9 years old and we watched James Cameron’s Titanic at the only movie theater in Vidin, Bulgaria. I’ll never forget that moment. The images, the emotions, the epic-ness of it all overwhelms. It was a truly beautiful experience and I’ve always seen it as the start of my love for cinema. But I’ll leave that for a future blog post.

I’ll end with this. I cried all the way through the last 10 minutes of this film. And while I won’t spoil it, I will say that the end is a perfect demonstration of cinema at its most powerful. A lot of people have tried to decipher why movies, fake stories, make us emotional. Of course there isn’t a lot to analyze. It’s up there on the screen, and nowhere more so than in the last 10 minutes of this film. I dare anyone who watches it to not shed a tear, and feel how empty life really would be without cinema. B+


The director Tornatore was only 32 at the time of the film’s release and since then has made many great films, all internationally recognized. The film is frequently viewed as one of the best of the 80s and has had a truly remarkable staying power. Since most of its themes hold up – one character even laments that the film business is not what it used to be anymore, due to TV and videos taking over – it is an easy watch for modern audiences.

The film actually has three versions. Originally released in a 155 minute version at the Cannes Film Festival, Tornatore saw that he could still retain the message of the film even by trimming it, so he cut it to 124 minutes. Later on, as the film became successful, Tornatore was commissioned by the studio to cut his ideal Director’s Cut for home video viewing. That ended up being 173 minutes long. This review is of the 124 minute version.

Next up I will watch the Tom Hanks coming of age film Big! See you then!

1988 Introduction
1988 #15: The Great Outdoors
1988 #14: Time of the Gypsies
1988 #13: Bull Durham
1988 #12: A Short Film About Love
1988 #11: Heathers
1988 #10: Coming to America
1988 #9: Beetlejuice

5 thoughts on “A Lifetime in Film: 1988 #8 Cinema Paradiso

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