Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) (Italy, 1988, New version 2001) *** 1/2
Written & direccted by Giuseppe Tornatore. Photography, Blasco Giurato. Editing, Mario Morra. Production design, Andrea Crisanti. Music, Ennio Morricone, Andrea Morricone. Cast: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Salvatore Caccio, Marco Leonardi, Agnese Nano, Antonella Attili, Leopoldo Trieste, Brigitte Fossey, et al. A French/Italian co-production. Released by Miramax. In Italian with subtitles. 170 minutes. R (two amusing sex scenes)
One of the most successful Italian films resurfaces. The "Adventures of Cinema Paradiso" would make a long documentary. It was the second feature made by Sicily-born Giuseppe Tornatore. His first, "Il Cammorista" (1985) starred Italian-American Ben Gazzara leading an all-Italian cast. The association of Italian Film Critics gave Tornatore the Best New Director Award, but so far as I know the movie did not play in the U.S.A.
"Cinema Paradiso" ("CP" from now on) originally ran for 180 minutes in Italy but was a box-office fiasco. It was then trimmed down to 155 minutes, further cut to 125 for the Cannes Festival --where it won the Grand Prize (1989) of the Jury. The American release was 123 minutes. I suspect that the 120 excised seconds were of the adolescent hero being deflowered. "CP" won the Oscar (in 1990) for best foreign language film. In 1991, BAFTA (the British Academy) showered it with awards, and more came from film festivals. Now we get the 170-minute version. Long? Yes. Easy to watch? Yes.
The original cut was primarily a celebration of film as we knew it, but also a dirge for its passing. Set in the village of Giancaldo (Sicily) it records the post-WWII days during which the main links to the rest of the world, and the main sources of communal joy were the movies in the local theater. The priest, Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste,) acts as censor, previews each print and rings the communion bell each time he wants a scene cut. Those are scenes of kissing or even of the mildest suggestions of passion. Alfredo (Noiret) the projectionist obliges, saves the out-takes to put back in the movies when they get returned to their distributors. Theoretically, at least.
Altar boy Salvatore or Toto is a war orphan. While not very good at church worship, he does worship movies. He even crosses himself when entering the projection booth. He keeps pestering Alfredo to instruct him. The 8-year old performer (Salvatore Cascio) had, in fact never seen a movie in a theater. He believed that the projection booth was the factory where films were made.
Toto is so obsessed with pictures that he swipes out-takes, keeps them at home in a can, and, one day, sets them inadvertently in fire. This scene must have been inspired by Francois Truffaut's classic "The 400 Blows," where the young hero, a worshipper of Balzac's novels, made a shrine to the writer and mistakenly started a fire. In "CP" there is indeed a romantic warmth that parallels Truffaut's.
Eventually, the clever Toto manipulates Alfredo into teaching the mysteries of projection. With beautiful ambivalence, the man feels he has wasted his life by "just" showing movies, yet he is also satisfied that he has made people happy for so many years. He becomes Toto's mentor and surrogate father and peppers his opinions with lines from movie dialogues.
Later (I won't reveal how and why) Toto, still 8-years old, becomes the official projectionist. Then we cut to his adolescence (played by Lonardi) and falls in love with newcomer Elena (Nano) the daughter of a bank director. Ipso facto her parents would not tolerate a relationship with a lower-class fellow.
What follows I cannot reveal either. Suffice to say that the two young people are separated, but get somehow reunited some 30 years later. In the meantime Salvatore (Perrin) has become a famous (and greying) filmmaker, still a bachelor of many temporary relationships with women. Elena (Fossey) is married and a mother. This large section is the main contributor to the film's re-lengthening. The tone changes. Until now we dealt primarily with the saga of movies, changing times, incidents and accidents, a great deal of humor, superb characterizations, ironies -sweet or not-and pathos, and more about the magic of the movies, their escapism and their richness.
In fact, I spent much pleasurable time trying to identify films, directors, actors and quotes, from Jean Gabin in Renoir's "The Lower Depths" to Amedeo Nazzari in the Italian "Chains" to Spencer Tracy in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde" to Brigitte Bardot in"God Created Woman" to Kirk Douglas in the Italian "Ulysses" to "Snow White" and much more. Hollywood reigns, followed by Italy.
The movie has held up superbly. The additions are touching, and help to explain certain discontinuities in the 1989 version. Some small problems still remain. Item: can an 8-year old, no matter how smart, become a skilled technician-and have to reach equipment far taller than the boy's size. Item: while an explanation is given for the splitting of the young lovers, it is not entirely convincing. Item: Salvatore, 30 years later, is credible, but the first part's adult/mature villagers have aged much too little. Item: the Morricone score is beautiful but can get repetitious within an almost three-hour film. Item: when the adolescent Salvatore films young Elena on the sly, what comes out shows, illogically, close-ups that could not have been made secretly. Etc.
Still, the suspension of disbelief, just like that which entranced the Cinema Paradiso's clientele, does come into play and will not diminish an overall wonderful (and wonders-full) movie-movie.
Note. Brigitte Fossey who plays the mature Elena first appeared in the almost-classic French film "Forbidden Games." She was not quite six years old.
After a couple of roles as a child actress, she left (or was made to leave) the cinema for ten years and grew up "normally." She then returned to the movies when she was 20 or 21 and has been in several since then. Some were important, others not. American cinephiles will mostly remember her in her supporting role as the woman breast-feeding her baby in the riotous "Going Places" (Les Valseuses) by Bertrand Blier, and in Francois Truffaut's "The Man Who Loved Women." In the "original" "Café Paradiso" she was credited among the players but as her footage was cut off she was never seen. Jacques Perrin, as the older Salvatore, was seen, but briefly.