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‘Cinema Paradiso’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 16, 1990


Giuseppe Tornatore
Philippe Noiret;
Jacques Perrin;
Salvatore Cascio;
Marco Leonardi
Not rated
Foreign Film

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Just about everything you ever loved (or hated) about Italian films can be found in Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso," from the industry's entrenched system of postdubbing to the unofficial requirement that, somewhere in the movie, a man treat a woman's breasts the way others do the accordion.

The latter activity takes place at the Cinema Paradiso, the only movie theater in this Sicilian town, where the town paisans come to laugh, cry, jostle elbows and hiss whenever the local priest has censored the kiss scenes, and where young Salvatore (played by Salvatore Cascio, then Marco Leonardi) and old Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) run the projector.

Or used to. The story actually begins years later, when word of Alfredo's death reaches the older Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who is now a famous filmmaker in Rome; and as he lies in bed, remembering those times, those precious, small-town moments in the projection booth, in the theater, in the town square, and outside that beautiful girl's window, Salvatore finally realizes that his childhood has been nothing more or less than a hamfisted Italian movie.

But, for the most part, this hamfisted movie is very enjoyable. Despite his crowding of the film with familiar Italian-character cutouts (screaming parents, admonishing priests, masturbating boys and, yes, even a town idiot), screenwriter/director Tornatore gives these and other cliches an entertaining flow, a certain Mediterranean deliriousness. His excessive spirit is given appropriately sentimental swirl by scorer Ennio Morricone, and comely authority by cinematographer Blasco Giurato, who floods "Paradiso" with exquisite compositions.

As the young tyke, Salvatore Cascio wanders dangerously into the over-precocious endearment zone (Village Voice critic Georgia Brown recently suggested wringing his neck; I suggest forcing him to watch Swedish movies). Actor Leopoldo Trieste, who plays the ecclesiastical, cross-eyed movie snipper who indicates to projectionist Noiret where to cut by ringing a small bell, suggests an exaggerated combination of Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar.

Noiret, as the fuzzy old mentor who quotes canned wisdom from John Wayne movies, teaches young Salvatore how to thread the projector and then learns to live with a tragic physical affliction, is quite delightful, however, and Marco Leonardi, as the adolescent Salvatore, has the most affecting turn of the three Salvatores, especially in his dreamy-eyed pursuit of rich daughter Elena (a striking Agnese Nano).

But it's the overall, dreamy effect, along with your willingness to switch off your sentimentality detector, that makes the otherwise ludicrous believable, such as the time Alfredo assuages the unruly mob crowded out of the Paradiso by reflecting the film onto the white wall of a house in the square so everyone can see the movie. Or when during a sweltering summer night, the skies suddenly open with pouring rain and Elena appears out of nowhere to give Salvatore one of those scintillating kisses the townspeople have had to do without for years.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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