Cinema Paradiso was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and released in 1988. It is set in the small Sicilian village of Giancaldo, where the main character of Salvatore Di Vita grows up. The film focuses around his friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso. This is where Salvatore’s love for film develops, as Alfredo and the Paradiso become hidings from the complications of adulthood and love.
I first discovered the existence of Cinema Paradiso through Ennio Morricone’s wistful, romantic, completely heartbreaking soundtrack. The melody swells to create illusions of a grandiose love story, one wild with the tangles of youth, dreams, and the sadness that tugs on such things. Without even seeing the movie, I was already infatuated by the visions such a theme inspired in me.
Morricone’s soundtrack has all the theatrical emotions of longing and loss that people feel when in the throws of youth or nostalgia. It’s this state of mind, and the divide between the poetic life we see depicted in movies, and the life we truly live that Cinema Paradiso awakens in its protagonist so well.
The film begins with Salvatore shown to be a successful film director living in Rome. On finding out that Alfredo has died, he heads back to his home town in a reflective state. At this point Alfredo is just a name, though as the flashbacks begin to roll we discover the person behind it and how closely his presence runs with who Salvatore has become.
Known as Toto, a young Salvatore is drawn to the exciting worlds within the cosy little Cinema Paradiso, which is the villages main attraction, and usually bustling with rowdy patrons. At first a pest, Alfredo soon forms a bond with him, introducing him to the ways of the projectionist booth. They watch the movies together from here, listening to the reactions and finding a sense of joy through creating an escape for the locals.
It’s the small details that make this film feel so personal. For example, the local priest passes a rule that all kissing scenes in the pictures be censored, causing great frustration amongst audiences. This is both humorous and poignant, as the climactic moments of these stories are often their romances, and therefore without the kisses it’s as if something vital is missing, and reality along with the trappings of the small village seep through.
When Salvatore embarks on his own romantic endeavours with a local girl named Elena, he faces the struggles of real love and its burden of obstacles. As Alfredo says to Salvatore: “Life isn’t like in the movies. Life… is much harder.” It’s in this way that he is Salvatore’s mentor, passing on his wisdom of life and urging him, when he is older to leave Giancaldo in order to find fulfilment.
Upon travelling back for Alfredo’s funeral, Salvatore finds that the Cinema Paradiso is going to be torn down and made into a car park. It’s a reminder of how only our romanticism of things has the ability to freeze them in time, while making their reality more heartbreaking.
It’s easier to see things cinematically, though dangerous to rely on illusions, because reality can never quite live up to an idea. That’s not to say that the film is completely dismissive of a dreamier perspective of life. In fact, it shows how it’s necessary to give people and places the meaning they deserve. Without the fantasy worlds of film, our dreams and experiences would never be so large.
Rating: 5 stars