(We here at Hammer to Nail are all about true independent cinema. But we also have to tip our hat to the great films of yesteryear that continue to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles alike. This week, our “The Curbside Criterion” continues where HtN staff can trot out thoughts on the finest films ever made. Today Brad Cook delves into one of the best films about cinema ever, Cinema Paradiso which is out now in gorgeous Blu ray via Arrow Films.)
I’ve always been a sucker for movies that are about the love of film, and how that love feeds into something that’s a bigger part of the characters’ lives. Purple Rose of Cairo is one such film, as is Hugo. I have to confess that, for whatever reason, I didn’t indulge in Cinema Paradiso until I had a chance to review this new Special Edition. I’m glad I finally did.
Told in flashback, Cinema Paradiso’s story centers around the life of Salvatore, known as Toto as a child. We first meet him as an adult who has become a well-known film director. When he learns of the death of a close friend from his past, he travels to his boyhood village in Italy and remembers the formative experiences that revolved around cinema and his love of a young woman. Those two infatuations intersected each other in various ways, and director Giuseppe Tornatore skillfully weaves them together.
In Toto’s village, the church doubled as a movie theater. As the child of a harried single mother, he spends as much time there as he can, indulging in the classics of Charlie Chaplin and others, including the films made in his home country. He befriends the projectionist, Alfredo, whose tasks include censoring the movies for the priest. Alfredo becomes a father figure to him, helping guide him through life, and it’s his passing that serves as the catalyst for the story in act one.
No matter what era we grew up in, Cinema Paradiso offers a powerful allegory for those of us who loved movies during our formative years. It examines the idea that we can never step in the same stream twice, and thus we can never recapture the raw emotions of our childhood, but we can embrace them and appreciate how those experiences shaped who we are now.
Cinema Paradiso won the 1989 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and that 124-minute version is included here. There’s also a Director’s Cut that debuted in theaters in 2002, and it’s included in this two-disc Blu-ray release too. It expands the running time by about 50 minutes, adding quite a bit of footage to the third act and resolving some questions about what happened to Salvatore’s teenage love. While some of it adds intriguing layers to the story, it’s not clear that all of it should have been included. Sometimes less is more.
The theatrical version includes a commentary track that mostly features Italian cinema expert and critic Millicent Marcus. Tornatore drops in here and there with comments, but the two were recorded separately. The bulk of the discussion is of a scholarly bent, much like Criterion’s “film class in a box” approach.
The other main bonus feature is A Dream of Sicily, which runs nearly an hour and covers the making of the movie, as well as Tornatore’s recollections of his early years and how he navigated the Italian film industry. Italian director Francesco Rossi and Sicilian artist Peppino Ducato also make appearances. It was released in 2000.
Tornatore also talks about Cinema Paradiso in A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise, which runs nearly half an hour. The director notes, among other things, how he was inspired to make the movie while assisting a movie theater owner with the disassembling of some equipment. It’s the kind of thing that now seems as quaint as a photographer reminiscing about working in a dark room, but it’s nice to capture that kind of history.
Finally, Tornatore discusses the movie’s well-known finale in a seven-minute featurette. Also included are trailers for the movie’s 25th anniversary and the release of the Director’s Cut, as well as a print booklet that has an essay by Italian cinema critic Pasquale Iannone.
– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)