Movies that make you want to see lots of other movies are a very good thing, especially if those movies you end up seeing are plenty you’re going into cold knowing you’re going to like them thanks to that one film that introduces you. Speaking of cold, guess who’s laid up with a bad one and is banging out his work from a partially prone position? Anyway (*cough!*), Cinema Paradiso is one of the all-time greats for such a cinematic education because it’s such an excellently crafted film that it’s worth watching a few times because of all the note taking you’ll very likely end up doing. I’ll save you a tiny bit of time and point you to this IMDB listing which should open up quite the rabbit hole to disappear into for a bit.
Arrow Academy’s solid restoration of the original 124-minute Cannes cut and the extended 174-minute Director’s Cut will fit nicely into your collection and as you can probably tell, is absolutely worth a purchase. Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore’s film is one where every shot is effortlessly composed and there are moments where you’ll find yourself mildly to moderately in awe at the perfect camera placement that fits in flawlessly with the music (by Ennio and Andrea Morricone). The film is mostly told in flashback as a famous director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) returns to his childhood home after 30 years away upon hearing an elderly friend has passed away. We learn that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) was a projectionist at the titular theater as well as a mentor to the younger Salvatore (or Toto, as he’s called) from the age of six (Salvatore Cascio) to his teens (Marco Leonardi).
Young Toto is initially discouraged by Alfredo, but when he shows aptitude in running the projector, he’s allowed to hang around and learn the ropes. The film dips gracefully into film history through many clips, quoted quips and posters from classics (you’ll want to see that list above) while also showing the perils of flammable nitrate film in two key scenes. Alfredo is badly injured after an incident and Toto ends up taking over for him full time (what, no child labor laws?). As he grows into his teens, he eventually finds love with a girl named Elena (Agnese Nano), but her family disapproves and she’s sent away around the time Toto is forced into military service. Alfredo persuades Toto to leave the village to pursue his dreams and promise to never return, which is where the film cycles around to its conclusion when the older Salvatore returns home with a final gift from his dead friend.
Okay, that’s a lame, too short, spoiler-free look at this magical film, but I really don’t want to ruin this one for you. I will say, however, that the Director’s Cut adds a good deal of content including what really happened to Elena and some other revelations worth checking out. You’ll also get a bit of more mature content the original cut hints at or omitted completely, so go scoot the kids off to something else if you don’t want to be answering a few birds and bees queries later. That said, this is a film all about movies and that famous ending is a massive emotional payoff that still gets a smile from this cranky old cuss typing this post. As noted twice already, that long list of films above will become *your* long list of films whether you buy them outright or catch whatever pops up on TCM or somewhere online.
There are a digital ton of special features on this set and yes, all are worth watching. I’d bet you a dime you’ll watch this more than once on the first day if the weather is lousy and you’re in the mood for something that feels evergreen in that way some films do upon first glance. Yeah, sure – I’ll admit to ignoring this film way back when it was initially released and I’d never even seen it on disc until I dipped into the backlog and this was next on the list. I’m happy I finally got to it because it was just the right time for it and that’s just when a great film becomes even more beautiful to watch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a got some hot chicken broth cooling that’s calling to me it’s just right enough to slurp down without cooking my tongue.
Score: A (95%)
Review disc provided by the publisher