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One of the most inspiring films of all time.

  • Sep 17, 2011
**** out of ****

Cinema begins with a childlike fascination and only ends when all lights turn out and all dark corners have been explored. Film is an everlasting, inspiring art; one which I've enjoyed studying and will continue to enjoy studying until the day I happen to expire. I can only hope that such a thing never happens to the movies. They deserve much better. Throughout my life, I've seen motion pictures that have inspired me and intrigued me in different ways. Once in a while, they tend to challenge me and my personal philosophies; but that is great filmmaking. There are no two great movies that are truly the same, and there is a reason for this. Great movies do not have identical twins, or clones, if you will. They may have imitators, and they may have follow-ups, but there will never quite be a perfect match for the perfect original.

"Cinema Paradiso", an Italian film released in the late 1980's, is a reflection on why cinema exists and why people love it. It's about as relatable as it is unforgettable; not only a film meant as an experience, but one meant as a story that all cinephiles can enjoy and even cherish. I watched the original, 2-hour cut; which, in my opinion, is a pretty darned good edition of the film. There is a longer cut available; but I heard mixed things about it, and while I do intend to watch it one day; that is not the version I am reviewing.

It's very hard to review the film. It was just too darned good. As good as films get, in fact. I like movies about the movies; especially ones that look deep into filmmaking and why it captures the hearts and even the minds of so many people. Here is a film that deals with the challenge and misunderstanding of the artistic visual medium; using humor, drama, and pure emotion to get the best out of the experience.

The premise itself had me sold. It chronicles the life of Salvatore (played by Salvatore Cascio as a child, Marco Leonardi as a teen, and Jacques Perrin as an adult). The story begins with him as a young child; who sneaks into picture shows just so he can experience a new thrill-a-day. He eventually confronts the man behind the magic, the projectionist by the name of Alfredo (played by the wonderful Philippe Noiret), and the man takes a liking to Salvatore's sense of wonder. He gives him some film, which eventually gets the child into trouble with his judgmental, misunderstanding, and perhaps emotionally broken widow mother.

Salvatore eventually gets a job as an assistant to Alfredo, and he learns the ropes easily, to the surprise of the local adults of Sicily (where the film takes place). This passion carries on into young adulthood all the way until the end of a lifetime. Salvatore begins making his own films in his teenage years, which is after a terrible tragedy strikes, rendering poor old Alfredo unable to do his job any longer. Salvatore still manages to take over Cinema Paradiso, which is the name of the local theater in which Salvatore found work.

Oh, the theater attracts many human beings of many personalities. There's the priest, who comes to censor the films for any suggestive or sexual content (violence doesn't seem to be in the picture quite yet, mind you). Then, there's the usual audience; including a man who tends to let loose spit-balls onto the fellow audience-members below him, as well as the one very sleepy man who finds himself snoring obnoxiously during the film, prompting his onlookers to take pleasure in waking him. I enjoyed these minor characters. But I was more-so attached, emotionally, to the relationship between mentor and student; Alfredo and Salvatore. The elder man gives Salvatore, the child, a sense of life and beauty he would never have discovered on his own. He shows him the cinema and allows him the chance to work alongside it before he has to make his own choices in life. We're all a bit like this. Or at least quite a few of us are. And if you aren't, then perhaps "Cinema Paradiso" is not for you. However, I found it beautiful.

The performances here are gold. The film is never mean, always heartwarming and endlessly entertaining; thus, it's an easy, fun, but complex watch. I loved it because it went beyond what I expected, and delivered a surprisingly addictive and relatable story. I loved these characters and whatever situation they were involved in. There's a charm to the film, but it does not come without the gruesome bite of reality. When dealing with stories like these, you need realism; there's no way around it. Avoiding it is a sin; as is delving deep into pretention. But "Cinema Paradiso" is not pretentious. How could it be? It isn't overly indulgent, or ambitious; it's a simple story of a child who grew up on film reels and the inspiration of an aging projectionist. It's the kind of film that might inspire you to make films, not because it contains the most interesting or memorable of images, but because it's so simplistic, yet so great.

I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this film. I loved everything about it; from its attitude, to its cinematography, to its screenplay, to its performances, to its emotional payoff. I was nearly in tears by the end; which will hit most people hard, as long as they felt engaged in these characters and in the story. Not everyone will love "Cinema Paradiso", but it can be said that its fascination is a rather appealing one. This is pure entertainment, with a bit of depth on the side, for adventurous movie-goers. Just like the art that it explores narratively, this film will never die. It has aged well, if not quite as long as most classics. But art doesn't always need to be old. It just needs to be unforgettable and indeed, inspiring. This film is satisfying on all fronts.

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More Cinema Paradiso reviews
Quick Tip by . November 04, 2010
posted in Reel Overseas
Tremendously romantic but it is a movie best shared (not just with a partner).
Quick Tip by . March 12, 2010
Italian Oscar winner mixes coming of age tale with a story that celebrates the love of cinema. A must see.
review by . August 11, 2009
World War II has just ended and life in the Sicilian village of Giancaldo centers around the Cinema Paradiso where townsfolk gather to see the exciting and glamorous life outside. Young Toto spends all his free time sneaking into the theatre for the movies and most especially for the old projectionist, Alfredo, who loves him like a son. Toto wants to grow up and show movies just like Alfredo, but one night, there is a terrible fire in the projection box.       This movie is simply …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #1
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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