“Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.”
After getting a call that his childhood mentor and dear friend Alfredo has died, filmmaker Salvatore Di Vita lies in bed and remembers his childhood and a place he hasn’t been back to in three decades. His thoughts take him to Italy during World War II and the escape he found with movies. The young Toto, as he was called, becomes fascinated with movies and befriends the projectionist at the town’s small theater, Cinema Paradiso. He soon spends all his time with Alfredo learning the trade and falling in love with the cinema. Eventually Toto takes on the job of projectionist but as he grows up, he and Alfredo remain close as ever. When Salvatore falls in love, Alfredo, fearing Toto will be destined to live his whole life in the projection room, drives him to leave the small Italian village to pursue his dream of filmmaking. Seeing the potential in him and knowing the girl will hinder him on his journey to success, he tells him to never look back. And so Salvatore departs and doesn’t return for 30 years.
Philippe Noiret as the wise and affectionate film buff Alfredo who quotes movies and actors as advice, and Salvatore Cascio as the intrigued and always animated young Toto create a charming friendship not unlike a farther and son. Cascio delivers a strong, and heartwarmingly sweet performance well above the standard for children his age. In one insightful scene, young Salvatore looks through a coveted box of cut up film strips, making up dialogue for each one; sure evidence that he was destined to be a filmmaker. Jacques Perrin as the grown Salvatore also does a great job at expressing his regret and a hidden sadness when he returns home, even though he led a successful life.
The simple storyline of Cinema Paradiso yields a beautiful, period-piece narrative that is undeniably a love letter to film. It reminisces on a bygone time when going to a movie was an event, an exciting occasion. When films brought people together and had the power to move an entire audience as one. Several scenes in Cinema Paradiso show the picture house filled to capacity with the entire cast of characters in the village, watching a movie together. Every person, from the children to the elderly, cry or laugh simultaneously. It’s a testament to the power of film but also a reminder of what film used to be and the power it no longer holds over audiences.
Cinema Paradiso’s production design has no frills but still achieves a somehow magical atmosphere. Cinematographer Blasco Giurato’s camerawork appears ordinary but from the long zooming-out opening shot to quick shots of objects to reveal setting, there is something distinct and special about it.
Cinema Paradiso simply radiates a love for movies and hence will steal a place in the heart of anyone who remembers the moment they first fell in love with movies, anyone who dreams of a life of filmmaking and movie lovers far and wide. From the poignant and inspiring story mixed with the right amount of lighthearted moments, combined with the dazzling end kiss scene montage, Cinema Paradiso is no doubt considered a classic to many.