14 Days of Love: ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988)

Valentine’s Day may be a rather silly holiday, but it is a wonderful excuse to celebrate love and romance in the movies. In that spirit, check back each day leading up to February 14th for a cinematic advent calendar of recommendations presented as mini-reviews.

Day 6: Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore
Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio

A still of the eponymous theater from Cinema Paradiso

Logline: Upon hearing of his mentor’s passing and the plans to tear down his beloved childhood movie theater, a film director returns to his hometown while reflecting on his life and lost love.

Why you should watch: Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso is as much a celebration of movies as it is a sweeping epic of one man’s journey through love and loss. Working from a script he also co-wrote, Tornatore reveals Salvatore “Totò” Di Vita’s life in stages; as a child (Salvatore Cascio), a teenager (Marco Leonardi), and an adult (Jacques Perrin). Therefore, we track Totò’s maturation and emotional development with all its wrinkles and complications. Totò finds his first love at the local movie theater, the Cinema Paradiso, and builds an enduring connection with Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the lonely old man working as the projectionist. Totò works with Alfredo at the Paradiso as he grows, his heart yearning to craft the wonders he sees on screen just as it longs to find a big-screen romance of its own. The film begins when Totò is now a big-shot director and older man, returning to the Paradiso upon news of Alfredo’s passing, framing the narrative as a man’s reflection on where his passions have led him. 

A still of Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in Cinema Paradiso

Tornatore’s direction paired with Blasco Giurato’s cinematography adds up to one of the lushest and most enchanting cinematic palettes. They capture the essence of memory depicting Totò’s past without reducing remembrances to saturated and over-exposed messes of schmaltz. Every shot is gorgeous and vibrant but in the sense of an expertly calibrated impression of one man’s reminiscence. Yet, for all the beauty in the visuals, almost everything in Cinema Paradiso pales in comparison to Ennio Morricone’s exquisite score. A man rightly referred to as “Maestro” for decades of his career, Morricone delivers a set of melodic themes dominated by piano and light strings. He varies them throughout the runtime, tenderly reinventing them to best reflect Totò’s current stage of life. Each is a self-contained masterpiece inexorably linked to the fabric of Tornatore’s storytelling. Even when I listen to the music on its own, Morricone’s absolute mastery of the medium never fails to bring me to tears. 

There’s a case for Cinema Paradiso as the quintessential movie about loving film, and it remains a strong one nearly a quarter-century after its release. I suspect in watching it you may just fall in love with the form all over again

Where you can watch: Rent on Apple.

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