#57: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

When and how did I watch this?

January 12th, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Italian film about movies, as the title suggests.  I went into this one blind.

What do I know about it now?

I want to get one thing out of the way immediately, and that’s the topic of sentimentality. A film isn’t really a film if it doesn’t attempt to sway you emotionally in some direction — from the primal levels of fear and passion to the lofty ideas of self-actualization and destiny — and Cinema Paradiso wants to do that out of the gate.  A man named Alfredo is dead, and our protagonist Salvatore rolls over in bed and begins to recall his childhood and adolescence, the times he worked alongside Alfredo, how the whole town rallied around the movies in wartime and relative depression in mid-20th century Italy. This approach begs us to get nostalgic about our own childhoods: the less fortunate events, the bizarre characters in our hometown growing up, falling in love and the subsequent heartbreak. We learn in the end that Alfredo, who had kept all of the clipped film the local priest had censored, assembled a reel of all the moments Salvatore “missed” and saved them for the day Salvatore would return to town. The film concludes with Salvatore sitting in a theater watching the makeshift film, tears filling his eyes.  The scene lasts a good three minutes. Just prior to this, Salvatore attends a funeral and recognizes the faces of the people that attended the theater regularly, all tight lipped and swallowing golf balls.  Do we need these moments to make it a good film?  Does the director have to pat us on the head and tell us, “This, right here, is the sad moment!” Why was I sniffling at the end of Eternal Sunshine and not this?  Because the former lets the sequence of events speak for itself. We don’t need Joel Barish to sit and sob, or for him to reflect and ponder all that has happened. And I think this is where Cinema Paradiso missed, for me. It’s a picturesque film, full of lively characters and camera angles and zooms — liberally borrowed from Citizen Kane, but you may as well do that — and the school-age Salvatore is a fantastic young actor. Alfredo serves as the wise philosopher in Salvatore’s life, and then there’s this disconnect as Salvatore falls in love, and he ends up leaving somewhat abruptly. There’s a disconnect thereafter, and Salvatore returns decades later and we as the viewers are forced to reconnect with a past cobbled together by a series of clippings that may or may not have been destroyed in a fire.

What are some themes in the film?

Destiny, love, cinema in the 1940s and 50s, depression-era Italy

Did this affect me personally?

The biggest moments for me had to do with the scenes inside the theater. Some of the antics were quite memorable and humorous.

Why is this ranked #57?

It’s possible I’m being unfair to the film.  It appears to be the highest ranked Italian film on the list (apart from the third Leone/Eastwood spaghetti western). It’s a movie about movies, and it’s still not entirely about movies, and it operates in this handily.  The version of the film I watched had a scrolling preface listing the numerous awards it has won internationally.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She missed most of it.

Would I watch it again?

Maybe.  It’s not a film I would go out of my way to see again unless I needed to.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

The movie is somewhat touchy-feely, so if that’s your bag, it might be what you’re looking for. But I confess that I’ve seen several foreign films that are better than this one.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

I’m not sure.  My take on it certainly doesn’t make it feel that way, but here it is on the upper 1/4th of the IMDb Top 250 for some reason.  Then again, Hachi was on here, though that film was far worse. People like this stuff.  It’s A Wonderful Life is coming up, which has the same feel. But a film can be a tear-jerking feel-good movie and not condescend.  I feel like that’s exactly what happened with this one.

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