Cinema Paradiso Made in: Italy Language: Italian Director: Guiseppe Tornatore Starring: Philippe Noiret, Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Antonella Attili, Leopoldo Trieste, Agnese Nano, Jacques Perrin Year: 1988
Synopsis: Salvatore "Toto" Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) is a successful film producer living in Rome. Upon hearing about the death of his childhood mentor, Alredo (Philippe Noiret), Salvatore begins reminiscing about his youth and the small Sicilian village he grew up in.
With much of the story told in flashback, we learn about Toto's life as he grows up during the difficult years following World War II.
As a boy, young Toto (Salvatore Cascio), is a clever but mischievous little character living with his mother, Maria (Antonella Attili), who is trying to cope with the death of Toto's father. In the close-knit village, all the townsfolk seem to know each other (as well as each other's business).
And the highlight of the town seems to center around the movie theater, or Cinema Paradiso as it is called, where everyone crowds inside to enjoy a few hours of escape from the hardships of everyday life.
Although enamored with movies, Toto also becomes fascinated with the magic that makes it possible for moving images to appear on the screen. Being the inquisitive little squirt that he is, Toto makes his way up to the area in back of the theater where he meets Alfredo, the gruff projectionist.
At first, Alfredo doesn't want to be bothered by the little boy. But as Toto displays a sharp wit and a natural knack for figuring out how the large film projector functions, the two begin bonding.
The simple Alfredo, through years of working at his trade, develops a unique wisdom after having watched countless films. And as time goes on, Alfredo becomes a mentor to Toto, imparting knowledge about love, the harshness of life, and the importance of following dreams.
Remarks: Cinema Paradiso is a brilliantly constructed coming-of-age tale. The acclaimed Philippe Noiret is wonderful as the wise Alfredo, but director Guiseppe Tornatore also goes to great lengths in developing the peripheral characters.
Each of those background characters are distinct, memorable, and bring a very authentic feel to the small village. Especially notable is the strict village priest, played with comic vibrance by Leopoldo Trieste.
Humorous, romantic, and sad, this is a film with substance that never becomes heavy-handed nor pretentious. And to top it all off, the music score by Ennio Morricone is beautiful and very moving.
Who would like this film: This film is for you if you enjoy foreign films, strong, character-driven stories, and the common, emotional experiences that can shape anyone's life. Although the physical setting might be unfamiliar, this is a movie that just about anyone can identify with (especially if you've ever spent a significant amount of time in a small town).
Bear in mind that two versions of Cinema Paradiso exist. One is the US release, and the other is the longer director's cut. Without giving anything away, the director's cut is significantly longer and ties together some story elements that were removed from the US release.
Although both versions are excellent, I must admit that this is the only time when I might recommend a US cut of a foreign film over the director's version.