Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) ****

Sometimes a film comes along that moves us in ways we don't see coming. Films like Imitation of Life, and Cinema Paradiso. I cried during Cinema Paradiso. There. I said it. Happy? I'm not going to say it again. And mind you, I didn't cry a lot, just a little bit at the end.

Just try and watch it yourself and not cry. Because nostalgia is the saddest thing in the world.

It has a happier beginning though. Cinema Paradiso begins sometime in the 40's in a small Italian town where the priest censors out kissing from all the imported Hollywood films (he calls it "pornography"). The theater projector, Alfredo, is the one in charge of cutting the scenes out. And a little boy named Salvatore visits often to ask if he can run the projector himself and maybe steal a few of the edited clips. A bag of them in his room catches fire and nearly destroys his home. His mother instructs Alfredo never to let Salvatore near the theater again. At first, he does. But the boy's love of the movies brings him constantly back, and Alfredo's heart warms to the boy.

In one of the more magical scenes in the movie, a small crowd gathers outside the theater when the theater is full, asking to see the movie before it gets too late for them to stay up. Salvatore watches as Alfredo removes the back of the projector and uses a mirror to reflect the movie onto the wall of someone's house, where the audience brings chairs and watches contently.

Salvatore grows older. As a teen, he mainly runs the projector, (the theater is no longer censored by the priest - now it occasionally shows porn), takes photographs and falls for a wealthy new girl in town. The film is predictable in plot, but not predictable in the way it makes us follow it s storyline eagerly. The film is scored by Ennio Morricone (who reuses a theme or two from "The Untouchables") and is directed by Gieuseppe Tornatore. After a stint in the army, Salvatore comes home and finds the town lonely, desolate. Alfredo tells him: "Living here day by day, you think it's the center of the world. You believe nothing will ever change. Then you leave: a year, two years. When you come back, everything's changed. The thread's broken. What you came to find isn't there. What was yours is gone. You have to go away for a long time... many years... before you can come back and find your people." Alfredo tells him to leave and become a movie director...and never look back. Salvatore does so, and we cut to him in his 40's or 50's, when he learns that Alfredo died. And so he returns home.

Some films are great because they are filled with nostalgia for a forgotten era. Like the popular teen films "American Graffiti" and "Dazed and Confused" which were homages to eras the directors hadn't forgotten when everyone else had. Cinema Paradiso is so filled with this nostalgia that you feel as if you had lived in this small Italian town yourself. You can almost smell the sweaty theater in summertime. The "Cinema Paradiso" screens Jason and the Argonauts, Humphrey Bogart films, and plenty of small, mostly forgotten Hollywood romances. It also screens joy, love, disappointment, sadness, nostalgia, friendship, laughter, and magic.

"Cinema Paradiso" is a film for the ages, and for all the ages.

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