There was a bit of a last-minute change of plans and Josh was unable to get us the film he intended to show (“Il Postino”), so Kevin and I made the unanimous executive decision to go forward with the next-best thing: Giuseppe Tornatore‘s 1988 Italian sentimental piece Cinema Paradiso.
Before spending the majority of its time in the past (as all good sentimental pieces do), Cinema Paradiso begins in the present with a phone call – a mother calling her famous director son to inform him of the death of “Alfredo”. He’s not at home and his girlfriend answers, giving Salvatore (“Toto”) the message when he gets home. Immediately, Toto begins to reminisce.
Yes, even Toto was once a small child growing up in the small town of Giancaldo, and the irritating bane of Alfredo the town projectionist’s days. Despite continually kicking him out of the Cinema Paradiso, Alfredo befriends the child and teaches him his greatest art.
That art? Cutting all of the kissing and other steamy material out of the films, by order of the local priest. Toto makes off with various clips of the nitrocellulose film, which he is continually reminded is very flammable, until his sexy stash causes a small fire in his home and his mother forbids him from going back to the theater. Yeah, that doesn’t work.
Toto continues spending his time with Alfredo, learning how to run the projector and being incredibly cute and annoying at the same time. but the good times simply can’t last forever, for one because they just can’t stop telling us how flammable this film stock is, and for another because the Italian title of the film is Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, and there’s simply nothing Nuovo about the theater.
Yeah, the theater burned down. Stupid foreshadowing. If it wasn’t for the continual reminders of flammability, they’d really have had a chance to get to 100 days without a workplace accident. Luckily for Alfredo, little Toto drags him unconscious from the fire, but not without knocking his head on the stairs a bunch of times and not before the fire takes Alfredo’s sight, and his career.
The theater is rebuilt (yay, Nuovo!), and since a blind projectionist is unable to focus the film and little Toto is the only one left who knows how to run the projector, Salvatore gets a new job.
And suddenly, little Toto becomes late-teenage Toto, a budding filmmaker and YouTube aspirant who goes around stalking the local hot chick Elena when he’s not working at the Nuovo. He finally declares his love, but she spurns him until his dogged persistence changes her mind. “Così state dicendomi che ci è una probabilità!”
Things go great until Toto has to go off for his mandatory military service. After this point, all of his letters to Elena are returned undeliverable, and on his return Alfredo tells him to leave to Rome to pursue his career rather than stagnate in Giancaldo, instructing him never to return. In the extended version, which we didn’t watch because it was almost three hours long, it is apparently revealed that Alfredo played a role in poisoning the relationship to encourage Toto to go away.
And until Alfredo’s death, Toto kept his promise not to return to his hometown, but he finally relents in order to attend his old friend’s funeral. When there, he learns that Alfredo closely followed his film career, sees the demolition of the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, which can no longer compete with TV and multiplexes, and is given a canister of film by Alfredo’s widow. As you can totally predict, it’s a long sequence of kisses and other blue material cut from the films of Toto’s youth. And…Fine.
As I said, sentimental as all get out. But at the same time, a really great film.