Movies & Videos
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

    Related Item
'Cinema Paradiso'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 16, 1990


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

Marketplace Online Shopping

Compare prices
for this movie

Find local video stores
WP yellowpages
More movie shopping

Save money with NextCard Visa

There are films as lovely, but none lovelier than "Cinema Paradiso," a folkloric salute to the medium itself, flickering with yesterday's innocence and lingering on the mind like bubbles in wine. Born of director Giuseppe Tornatore's childhood memories, this is a magic lantern in a Sicilian boy's hand, its warm light shed on the riches of life in a poor, stone-built land. It is, in a word, exquisite.

Philippe Noiret, the sagacious French veteran, plays the mentor Alfredo in this life story of Salvatore "Toto" Di Vitto, a director manque' depicted as a child by Salvatore Cascio. The boy is an olive-skinned little scamp with Clark Gable ears and great chocolate eyes that open wider than the screenful of miracles at the neighborhood Cinema Paradiso. The kindhearted, craggy Alfredo is the projectionist, the spinner of myth and the giver of a hard-won wisdom, full of Italian fatalism, winks and rough fatherly love.

It is near the end of World War II and Toto's father is missing somewhere on the Russian front. His mother, as free with a slap as with a hug, bars Toto from his beloved movie house when she finds he has again spent 50 lire, the milk money, on its grainy offerings. However, the resourceful imp manages to finagle an apprenticeship out of the sympathetic Alfredo, whose adages come mostly from the pens of Hollywood screenwriters.

The movies brought not only the world but the future to the bucolic town of Giancaldo, whose citizens jeered and wept, swooned and spooned, spat and smoked and picked their noses, drank Chianti and nursed their babies, married and even died at the Cinema Paradiso. Over the 40 or so years of the story, the theater itself undergoes many transitions, so the gently comic film not only celebrates but eulogizes the community and the picture show.

It is also a romance of present sorrows and past joys, a nostalgic exploration of the storyteller grown up and the child who listened at his mentor's knee. As with the Taviani Brothers' "The Night of the Shooting Stars," whose richly textured lyricism it recalls, the film's events occur in that glimmering land where first loves are forever young and Duke Wayne never died. It is, in fact, a savored flashback brought on by Alfredo's death.

The story opens on the grown-up Salvatore, a silver-haired film producer (played by Jacques Perrin) who has not been home for 30 years. His mother assures his sister that he will indeed return for Alfredo's funeral, though Salvatore at first seems reluctant. Then the recollections steal in on him, an irresistible tumble of warm, funny, bittersweet vignettes, all fitted together and as sly as one of Alfredo's winks. There are the village women washing their long dark braids in the Giancaldo fountain, the crazy man who thinks he owns the square, the boys tearing up the school stairs, all accepted in that simpler time and space.

In the antique projection booth, Alfredo screens the films for the approval of Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste), the reason no one has seen a single kiss in 20 years of going to the cinema. It seems Toto has his second kiss from a lissome banker's daughter, a rainstorm buss worthy of Anna Magnani. The town, the boy, the movies all grow up together, as the silent antics of Charlie Chaplin give way to the naked pout of Brigitte Bardot gives way to the VCR.

"Cinema Paradiso" is cherished regret. Tornatore, who also wrote the film, was inspired by loss, the realization that communal movie-going had become a thing of the past. He had been primarily a maker of documentary and television films, and surely "Cinema Paradiso" heralds a new beginning. It finds laughter in the burlesque of grade school dunces and the tedium of a granny's knitting needles. It finds courage in an old man's smile and a widow's tears and truth in all the cornemplexities of the global village, does it find hatred.

Cinema Paradiso is in Italian with English subtitles and is unrated but suitable for all ages.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top

Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar