I have written elsewhere about Giuseppe Tornatore and his examination of film in The Star Maker (1995), and I hope that future posts, articles, and maybe even long-form journalism, can be dedicated to the tendency to self-reflection and nostalgia for film in Italian & European cinema (another #filmwelove is Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003)). For now, though, we must content ourselves with Tornatore’s break-through work (and winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film), Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.
On the surface, Cinema Paradiso offers everything one would expect from a foreign-film: beautiful people, beautiful shots, and an unconventional narrative structure. But it is much more than this. It is a paean to old film, but also a story about difficult (and wrong) decisions, forgiveness, the function of art, film as art, and love (philia, eros, agape). It is the story of an unhappy man (Salvatore) who learns, via a lover, that his old mentor has died.
Before deciding whether or not to go back to the Sicilian town of his childhood, Tornatore shows us (by using Salvatore’s own reminiscence) what this childhood entailed: the death of his father, the just-coping and strictness of his mother, the stifling atmosphere of an adolescence stifled by mid-Century provincial mores and the influence of the church, and a new Italy, just finding its feet, working out who it is and what it needs to survive (money, and distraction, and hierarchy). It shows us the joys of film (and through film, escape), the joys of friendship (and through friendship, escape), and the pains of escape (and through escape, family, place &c).
Nor is this a lesson from the pulpit – it is a fun, mischievous, wide-eyed pleasure, helped in no small part by the acting of the three Salvatores (Cascio, Leonardi & Perrin) and Philippe Noiret, who plays the part of uncle-I-never-had with a warmth and realism I’ve not encountered anywhere else in film.
I have no doubt that it is a masterpiece of modern cinema, and I urge you to watch it wrapped in a duvet (with summer rains outside that we can imagine are colder than they are) as soon as possible. You’ll not be disappointed, particularly by the ending, which is killer.
NOTE: We do not own the copyright for this image.