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Cinema Paradiso

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On Sunday evening, I finally watched the much celebrated Italian film “Cinema Paradiso”. I’d bought the DVD towards the end last year but only now actually sat down to see it. One of the reasons I’d left it for so long was the assumption it would be a heavy, rather depressing piece, and I had never felt much in the mood for trying it out. However, having seen it at last, my reactions are a bit mixed.

Cinema Paradiso (4 Disc Deluxe Edition Box Set) [1989] [DVD]

The film is about a young boy, Salvatore (nicknamed ‘Toto’), growing up in a Sicilian village in the 1940s and 50s, who befriends the projectionist, Alfredo, at the village’s very own cinema, the Cinema Paradiso. Without giving too much away, the boy comes to take over the role and continues his friendship with Alfredo, who advises him on the major events of his life.

At the start of the film, a grown-up Toto, in his fifties, hears of the death of Alfredo, and travels back to the town of his birth to attend the funeral. The bulk of the film is in effect a long flashback to his childhood and a rediscovery of how his life came to be where it is.

I enjoyed the movie–it is beautiful in many ways, to use a very Italianate expression. However, for me, there were a few unresolved points. Having said that, the version I watched was the original theatrical release, not the director’s cut (which is longer)–perhaps that one might cover a few of those details. I thought it should have continued for a while longer rather than end when it did.

There also wasn’t what I’d call a central ‘conflict’ in the film, no internal or external demons for the protagonist to conquer. That’s not to say it was boring–far from it. Perhaps the conflict being explored is just the endless passage of time, of constant change, the yearning for times gone by, and how we deal with these things as individuals and as communities, particularly when that community is such a small one. In one of the last scenes in the movie, set in the 1980s, a crowd is gathered in the piazza of the small village–all around are the signs of the era that would not be out-of-place in any Western town or city: cars, billboards, jeans, plastic bags. Thinking about a similar scene set back in the 50s, it struck me just how much things changed in the Western world between the 1950s and 1980s–at least in terms of visual style, fashion, culture and technology. The scenes from the 50s seemed to almost belong to another age, rather than just a generation before.

My favourite quote of the film is from Alfredo, when he urges Toto to go and follow his dreams:

“Non voglio sentire te, voglio sentire di te.”
I don’t want to hear you, I want to hear about you.

A film well worth seeing.

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