Friday, 1 April 2011

Cinema Paradiso

Set in post-WW2 Sicily, Cinema Paradiso is the story of Salvatore and his love of cinema. As a young boy (Salvatore Cascio) Salvatore (known as Toto) is constantly sneaking away from his mother to get into the local cinema (Cinema Paradiso) and pester the projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). When one day the celluloid in the projector catches fire and the projector explodes in Alfredo’s face blinding him, Toto saves his life by pulling him from the burning cinema. When the cinema is rebuilt Toto becomes the new projectionist.

Toto grows up (Marco Leonardi), remains as projectionist until he moves away for military service. He remains close friends with Alfredo, but on his return Alfredo tells Salvatore to leave town, make something big of himself and never look back. Salvatore eventually leaves for Rome and becomes a director (I think) and only returns as an adult (Jacques Perrin) for Alfredo’s funeral. Upon his return he finds that his beloved cinema hasn’t been used in years and is about to be demolished to become a carpark!

A very funny, moving and beautifully made film, Cinema Paradiso was made even more poignant by the fact we were watching at our local independent Picture House cinema that is in danger of being closed by our local joke of a city council!

The young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) is absolutely fabulous. He is cheeky, loveable and a great actor for one so young. I was quite disappointed when suddenly he grew up and we were confronted with a different actor! The developing relationship between Toto and Alfredo is done really well. It could have been rather awkward trying to portray a friendship between a 7-year-old (?) and a middle-aged guy; it might just not have worked if the dynamic between to two actors wasn’t right, at worst it could have come across as being creepy. However, it’s just perfect. Initially Toto is just being cheeky, and pestering Alfredo; but this gives way to genuine friendship as demonstrated when Alfredo surprises Toto by turning up at the cinema to visit after he has been blinded. There are many friendships in films that really don’t work involving actors far older than 7!

The story is told in retrospect and this works really well. The film starts with adult Toto hearing of Alfredo’s death; he then remembers how they became friends, and so the story is all told through his eyes. The film occasionally returns to the adult Toto along the way, until at the end he returns to Sicily for the funeral. I think perhaps if it was simply a linear story it may have been slightly rambling, but because of the events being in the past it makes it clear where the story is going; though there are still a couple of surprises at the end.

As well as the main story there are many sub-plots running through the film:
- The guy that always falls asleep and snores (people waking him up in increasingly amusing ways).
- The upper class twit on the balcony who always spits down on people (who eventually get pelted with food).
- The drunk homeless guy in the main square declaring “This is my square!”
- The priest who rings his bell whenever there is kissing/nudity on screen, so that Alfredo must cut and splice the film without it. This is really brought home at the end of the film. Toto is told that Alfredo has left him a gift, which turns out to be a roll of film. He waits until he is back in Rome before playing it in his cinema; to discover that it is all of the “romance” scenes that Alfredo had to cut from many and various films over the years!

A great film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Funny, moving, and very charming thanks to the great relationship between Toto and Alfredo. Sweet and a bit quirky, well worth seeing if you haven’t already.

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