Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Every once in a while, I finally have a movie on the site that I can share with my mom.

New Paradise Cinema was written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and was well-known in the U.S. when it came out in 1988, winning the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.

One morning in Rome, a famous film director named Salvatore Di Vita — played by a real-life famous filmmaker, Jacques Perrin — wakes up to his girlfriend telling him that Alfredo has died. She has no idea who that is, as Salvatore is a closed book, a man who will not commit and who has not returned home for three decades. This is but the beginning of the story.

Eight years after World War II, Salvatore was Toto, the son of a widow who spends every second that he can at Cinema Paradiso, the movie house where he becomes friends with Alfredo (Philippe Noiret, Topaz), a middle-aged man who allows him to sit in the projection booth and watch the films. As Rome is such a religious town, the local priests have demanded that any moment of romance must be deleted from the films, at which point the audience shots in anger.

Toto soon learns to run the projector, but one night, as he steals the projector to watch The Firemen of Viggiù on a wall of a house, the cinema catches on fire. Toto saves his friend, but a film canister explodes, destroying the man’s sight. When the theater is rebuilt, Toto becomes the projectionist and Alfredo assists him.

After growing up, Salvatore falls for the young Elena Mendola, an experience that teaches him love but breaks his heart when she must move away and is forbidden to even write him. He has also started to make films of his own. Alfredo tells the young man that he must leave his hometown behind and devote himself to being an artist. He must never visit. He must never give in to nostalgia.

Now, thirty years later, Cinema Paradiso is being torn down to make a parking lot and the people of the town carry Alfredo’s coffin through the streets. The projectionist’s widow has something that the old man left for the filmmaker, though. All of the scenes of kissing, of lust, of love — all the moments that the clergy demanded destroyed — all survived to make one reel of romantic longing that Alfredo had kept for Salvatore for all these years. Watching this movie allows the now old Toto to make peace with where he came from.

The director’s cut of the film shows what happens when an older Salvator and Elena meet and the note that she had sent him decades ago, one that Alfredo had kept hidden inside Cinema Paradiso, all so that his friend could become a success.

Made in Bagheria, Sicily, Tornatore’s hometown, this film was inspired by the director’s childhood. He originally wanted it to be an obituary for traditional movie theatres and the movie industry.

The Arrow Video release of this film — on DVD, blu ray or UHD — is exactly as special as you’d hope that it would be. Beyond two high definition versions of the film (the 124-minute theatrical version and the 174-minute Director€’s Cut), there’s also commentary from Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus, a 52-minute documentary on the director’s life, a making-of and even a feature about the kissing sequence where Tornatore discusses each clip and where it comes from.

If you love film, I don’t need to tell you that you must own this movie. You can get it from MVD.


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