Although I picked Cinema Paradiso to be in my list, I have a confession to make. I have actually seen the first 20-30 minutes of the film. It was back in yesteryear, in Italian class, I was sitting at the front of the class nearest the door, it was a terrible place to be. As it was nearly the end of that term, not sure if it was Spring or Summer, but our teacher, who spoke to us in Italian produced Cinema Paradiso and then in English said we would watch this film instead of doing work, as a treat. I hated the film. This was mostly due the fact the TV was practically above me and the subtles were so small. Even though this film has been raved about, one so many awards (the film actually starts with a list), I have avoided it.
Now that I have seen it all, my attitude has changed as how could I hate a film that celebrates those who love film.
At first I wondered where I would watch the film. I had bought a few on my list to watch but as Cinema Paradiso was the one film I wasn't too keen to watch, I didn't want to have it on my shelf. But Netflix came the rescue. After watching the film, I take back everything I said about it. But you can see how watching a film at the wrong time or wrong place can either ruin or cause false enjoyment.
Toto lives in a picturesque village in Italy where he is a choir boy at church, attends the local school and like all the other villagers attends screenings at the run down cinema in the town square. After Toto sneaks into a screening where the priest decides what scenes have to be cut, mostly kissing scenes, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the projectionist, Alfredo. He teaches him how to work in the projection booth at the cinema and helps fuel Toto's love for film.
His mother disapproves at first, still holding on to the belief that her husband survived the war and waiting to come home. When Toto hordes bits of film at home, it causes a fire almost killing his sister. His mother forbids Toto from seeing Alfredo. But the true friends strike a deal. Toto helps Alfredo pass his school tests (he was going to night school) and Alfredo teaches him.
After a tragic accident involving the cinema going up in flames, Alfredo is badly injured and left blind. Toto takes over. A newly wealthy resident in the village restores the cinema and takes over. Toto works as the projectionist. He falls in love with a local girl who comes from a wealthy family in the town. They enjoy a few months together until she is forced to go away for the summer. They reunite for a short time and there where they share the cinematic kiss in the rain. But Toto is called up to complete his military service. He never sees her again.
Upon returning to the town, Toto finds things are different but the same. Alfredo urges him. To leave and seek a better life in Rome. He tells him not to return, don't give into nostalgia. He tells him do something he loves.
Years later, an older Toto, now a successful filmmaker, receives a call from his mother telling Alfredo has died. Having not been back to his hometown for 30 years, he returns. It's different. The squareis filled with cars, the Cinema Paradiso is run down, closed because no one goes anymore. But at the funeral, Toto sees all the people from his past. It's an emotional scene as he acknowledges them all with a simple nod of the head, but it means a lot.
Toto rewatches footage he filmed in his youth including a film of the girl he fell in love with and hasn't forgotten. He returns to Rome and in the final scene, he watches the film Alfredo left him. It's a reel of all the scenes that were cut, all the kissing, love and affectionate scenes from all the films. This moves Toto to tears of joy that his old friend has kept this for him all these years.
It's a beautiful film with a simple story and unfortunately a back dub. It was in Italian but that dub was quite bad. Overlooking this, the film, for me, was about finding a true friend and staying true to something you love. In a way the blip of a love story in the film rather spoilt this emotional journey but I suppose it was needed to give Toto a push to leave. The winning paring in the film is obviously Alfredo and Toto (young and old). The two don't act like father and son but friends, piers and that's a combination that is not often portrayed on screen, at least not in happy way.
The passing of time is dramatic but is not over the top. Fashion is different but it's the attitude of the people that is different. The fact the priest has to approve a film taking out all the affection and love, whereas by the 60s, films showing naked women are screened. The one element that is consistent, are the people of the village. The cinema brings people together and creates a bond with everyone, even at the end when the cinema is torn down.
The love of film is the main theme that I can resonate with. Sometimes there is no reason to love film. It's about story, it's about community, it's about the magic and escapism, but what it comes down to is something you can share with a great friend. Brilliant film and I'm so glad I gave it another chance otherwise I would have missed out on all those moments of cinematic bliss.