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CINEMA PARADISO

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 21, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The British boutique label Arrow Films has given a gorgeous Blu-ray upgrade to one of 1990’s best movies, the Italian Oscar-winner for Best Foreign-Language Film, ‘Cinema Paradiso.’ Here’s my May 4, 1990, Deseret News review. As you’ll see, the film was unrated when I reviewed it, but it was later given a PG rating.  Then, for a 2001 re-edited ‘director’s cut,’ the film earned an R for a couple of sex scenes that were added. The Arrow Blu-ray edition includes both versions.

"Cinema Paradiso" is at once a love letter to the movies and a tender, unabashedly sentimental coming-of-age story set in a small Sicilian village during the post-war years.

The story is told in flashback after Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), a famous, successful, but unfulfilled film director, is awakened by a phone call from his mother telling him his old friend Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) has died, and the funeral is the next day.

Salvatore is unable to sleep, and for most of the rest of the film he remembers days gone by, primarily his growing-up years amid a bevy of zany eccentrics.

Most of his youth was spent in the small movie theater that bears the film's title, where he could be spirited away from his tenuous, unhappy real life to the reel world of fantasy, not just when the theater was open to the public.

The projectionist, Alfredo, is at first annoyed that this boy keeps sneaking in, and he kicks him out repeatedly, especially when he watches as the local priest screens films and orders Alfredo to cut out all the "kissing" sequences, along with anything else the priest deems to be in questionable taste.

But gradually Alfredo warms up to Salvatore and eventually becomes his father figure. Meanwhile, Salvatore gradually learns how to operate the booth.

      

Philippe Noiret, left, and Salvatore Cascio in 'CInema Paradiso.'

These early moments in the film are heart-warming and funny, but it isn't long before melodrama begins to take over. A lesser film might sink under the weight of such contrivances as a fire in the projection booth that has tragic consequences, acting as a rather heavy-handed metaphor.

But despite his story's occasional lumbering turns, writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore has a light touch with his dialogue and direction so that even at its weakest moments the film remains remarkably compelling. It's a balancing act that can make the difference between a success and a failure, and here Tornatore is more than up to the task.

The performances are all first-rate, the lush Ennio Morricone score perfectly accentuates the action and the photography is lovely.

     

As a coming-of-age picture "Cinema Paradiso" is more like "Amarcord" than "My Life as a Dog," especially in scenes where the villagers attend movies to participate instead of merely watch. It is in these scenes we meet dozens of zany characters, giving the film its mild Felliniesque feel. But it also provides one of the movie's best moments, as Alfredo projects a film on a wall in the village square for the townfolk who couldn't get into the movie.

"Cinema Paradiso" does not cover unfamiliar territory, but it manages to find its own romantic voice and, like the classic films it celebrates, becomes an enchanting fantasy that should happily spirit away even the toughest cynics.

And the climax is one of the most satisfying and delightful movie endings to come along in many a moon.

Anyone who loves movies is going to love this movie.

"Cinema Paradiso" is not rated, but would probably carry a PG-13 for some relatively mild nudity, sex and profanity. It is in Italian with English subtitles.