Film Review: Cinema Paradiso


A major contributor to the reverential narrative of wistful cinema, Giuseppe Tornatore’s magnum opus Cinema Paradiso is an elegant distillation of the form’s escapist qualities and the garland of an industry that understands global audiences’ enduring appetite for wild nostalgia.

Returning to his lavish Rome apartment, revered film director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) is informed by his girlfriend that he missed a call from his mother. She tells him that she had called to say a man named Alfredo has died. Unable to sleep due to the news he’s just received, Salvatore stays up all night reminiscing about this gruff, yet kindly projectionist who took him under his wing and taught him about all wonders of life.

Tornatore uses this narrative framework to whisk us away to a picture-postcard image of pre-war Italy as he spins a remarkable yarn about love, life and the magic of cinema. Told with playful vigour and an infectious energy, Tornatore’s crowdpleaser walks the line between genuine affection and artificial sentiment. Ennio Morricone’s sprightly score enhances this syrupy disposition, tugging at your heart strings and lulling you into its tender celluloid embrace. A charming romance about cinema’s ability to enrapture our imaginations, Cinema Paradiso is less about the impact of any one particular film or cinematic movement, but rather a billet-doux to the medium.

We rarely see the works being shown, instead presented with a delightful montage of the audience’s glowing faces; a facet most apparent during the famous ‘kissing reel’, which so perfectly captures the silver screen’s ability to articulate the full gamut of human emotion. Sadly, UK audiences will only be able to see the film’s truncated theatrical cut. Whilst some would argue Cinema Paradiso’s leisurely pace and prevailing self-indulgence benefits from a condensed runtime, this cut still lacks the darkness and social relevance originally intended.

In retrospect, considering the Weinstein’s continued evaluation of world cinema as an exotic and enticing commodity, the film’s perspective of Italy as a rustic idyll can feel a little hard to swallow. With Mediterranean life distorted to create an agreeable global image of pastoral plazas and a ubiquitous carnival of gregarious community spirit, Cinema Paradiso can at times feel like a saccharine Bertolli olive oil promo – the epitome of souvenir cinema that’s been shrouded in old-world charm ready to be shipped for global consumption. And yet, it’s hard to resist the tender and intelligently orchestrated emotion on show. A celebration of cinema’s communal experience, this lovingly crafted ode to the joys projected upon the silver screen is a touching celebration of moviegoing.

Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble