It’s been a little over 30 years since moviegoing audiences were first treated to Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore’s love letter to the joy and magic of film. Having been released to a deluge of wonder and praise from audiences and critics alike, it’s a film which has now so become a part of the fabric of modern cinematic culture that it occasionally slips from view. But although new trends or shock releases might obscure it, the pure and simple delight that it weaves through the story cannot help but captivate. It truly is a rare gem.
The film tells the story of Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita, a renowned Italian film director, who grew up as a mischievous apprentice projectionist at his villages local cinema in the late 1940s. The tale centres around the dilapidated picture house, the gruff but loveable projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) and the various colourful characters of the town. Over the years we see Toto grow from carefree boy, obsessed with the reels and magical images, turn into proteogenic projectionist and later wistfully romantic youth. All of which is merely part of the discovery of the central mystery – why did he leave the village and never return for over 30 years?
It’s a fascinating and beautiful reconstruction of post-war Italy, re-imagined into an idealised and almost mythically quaint version of itself; Tornatore’s work with cinematographer Blasco Giurato having captured a timeless and ardently Italian beauty in almost every frame. The cast are sublime throughout, most especially the three actors who take turns playing Toto, Salvatore Cascio as the boy, Marco Leonardi as the youth, and the grown man, Jacques Perrin. If the film has a minor niggle, it perhaps lies in a few scattered moments of fairly obvious dubbing on several of the French actors, but those are only rarely noticeable and only at the outset, before the film draws you fully in.
In these trying times when cinema balances on a precipice of uncertainty, there’s hardly been a more apt time to bask in the glow of everything that is joyful and wonderous about the silver screen. Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece, not only of Italian cinema, but as a landmark film of its day that hold true as a genuine classic for all time.
This new 4k remaster of the film comes with a plethora of extras, interviews and an insightful commentary track. Additionally it also includes the 30 minute longer, and somewhat more emotionally complex director’s cut of the film (which was not provided for review). Given that this is a masterpiece that has not only withstood the test of time, but still resonates now, it’s hard not to recommend to cinephiles everywhere.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 7 Dec 2020