An Appreciation – Cinema Paradiso

Toto represents the everyman, a person who doesn’t have much to offer other than an undying passion for film. But, in reality, the movie is about two love stories featuring Toto. The first, obviously, is with movies, and the second is with the beautiful young woman Anna (Isa Danieli), one of Toto’s schoolmates. Toto’s life as a teenager takes a different turn, focusing less on his relationship with Alfredo and the theater, and more on his pursuit to win the love of Anna. This is a weaker element compared to the beginning passages of the film, but still works in showing how life continues on. Film is much the centerpiece of Toto’s life during this stage, but it is combined with his desire to have a companion as well. We can find the scene where he stands outside her window to be a little forced, but it sets up the wonderful moment where they finally express their love together at the theater. Romance and the movies are two things that have been linked for as long as theaters existed; any person who’s ever been on a date has brought their partner, sooner or later, to a movie theater. That sense of love is effortlessly portrayed here, in two young people who feel that their entire world revolves around them alone. But, like all things, life goes on, and whether or not Anna and Toto’s relationship will last into adulthood is beside the point. What really matters is what they shared, and how their bond was created through a mutual love of the movies.

I say that the love story between Toto and Anna is the weaker of the story threads because the friendship between Toto and Alfredo is so well handled that we can’t help but want to return to their dynamic. It’s interesting that when Toto finally decides to leave his village to pursue a career, Alfredo would make him promise never to return, to never look back and to continue to move forward and grow. This is understandable, because like all people, we want Toto to make the most of his life, but it’s sad to see the friendship between the boy and his adopted father figure make way for the inevitability of maturity and adulthood. However, it would lead to one of the best and most emotional endings you’ll see in any movie. Toto, now in present time, returns to Giancaldo to attend Alfredo’s funeral. He meets with his mother, some old friends, and sees the Cinema Paradiso taken down to make way for a parking lot. However sad this is for our lead character, it all gets uplifted with an amazing present that Alfredo leaves him. What Alfredo gives Toto is a film reel, a reel that contains shots that Toto once believed to have been lost forever. I dare not mention what this contains for those who have not seen it. But with this montage, with a great emotional reaction from Toto, we complete a circle that started when Toto was a young boy. It is as if Alfredo reaches out beyond the grave, telling this child (now a grown man) that he loves him, and that Toto has taught Alfredo just as much as Alfredo has him. It is a beautiful and heart-filled moment, almost too much to describe in words.

A masterful score by Ennio Morricone enhances the mood of the picture. It seems when you talk about the great musical compositions in film history, sooner or later you will arrive at Morricone, and rightly so. From Italian to American productions, from spaghetti westerns to horror films, it seems there isn’t a genre that he couldn’t fit the perfect sound to. This film is no exception. The music he creates here is a superb complement to the magical and nostalgic tone that Tornatore goes for. There is a grand, dramatic, and melodic feel to it. It’s as if the music helps us feel that what we’re watching is Tornatore’s own personal history being shown for us. Like we are experiencing his memories both in the way he saw them and in the way he felt them. So easily does the music fit with the images that it is hard not to think about what we have seen without remembering the sounds we heard as well. Just as there is no other person I can think of who could have played Alfredo other than Philippe Noiret, there is no other composer I can think of who could have created such appropriate music, other than Morricone.

Like I mentioned before, when it was distributed in the United States, a large portion of the film was cut down from the original theatrical release. Not just one or two scenes, but almost an entire hour’s worth of story was removed. A recent DVD release included a version with the edited footage put back in, restoring it to its original form. With the new “extended version” of the film, we learn more about Toto’s young adulthood, and many of the questions that lingered from the shorter version are answered. The beginning is more or less the same with the young Toto befriending Alfredo. The main difference involves Toto’s relationship with Anna. We learn what has happened to her while Toto went away, being drafted into the Italian army. Anna’s background is further revealed, showing her wealthy upbringing, and a family that disapproves of her relationship with Toto. And finally, we get to see a reunion between the older versions of them, where explanations are given, and the choices between the two determine how the rest of their lives will be played out. While I did enjoy what I saw and appreciated seeing a more complete picture of their relationship, I do think the shorter version of the film is the superior one. Some things are better left unsaid, and when Toto and Anna get to speak their peace in the longer version, the film dips into a kind of soap opera story that is both unnecessary and bordering on over the top. But I do like the fact that the extended film exists, if only to help us further appreciate the quality of the edited version.

I grew up in a small town. There really wasn’t much there to do, other than to go to the local movie theater. I would go there with my friends after school once, maybe even twice a week. It would act as both a place for movie watching and as a place to socialize with others before and after the movie was shown. Thinking about it now, I can safely say that many of my favorite memories are associated with watching movies at that theater. Cinema Paradiso understands this, and replicates that longing for the past in the most moving of ways. It is a story with no evil persons, just a small group of people all brought together with a common interest and passion. Some people may ask why we love the movies the way we do, but the real question is: how can you not love them?

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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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