What I’m Watching Now


Another in an occasional series and one I’m sorry it took so long to watch. Cinema Paradiso rightfully won all sorts of awards when it came out in 1988. Salvatore Di Vita (“Toto”) embodies passion at every stage of his life. He falls in love with the cinema, sneaking out of the house he shares with his mother to watch as films arrive at his Sicilian village in the days after the World War II. More than that, Toto loves the mechanics of winding the film, adjusting the focus as instructed by his dear friend and mentor Alfredo, the projectionist for the Cinema Paradiso.

As a teenager, Toto’s passion of course expands to “the new girl,” but the adult Toto finds satisfaction only in directing cinema.

The genius of the film is the interweaving of  clips from classic movies in a way that reflects the feelings of the people in the village and illustrates the changing technology that allowed the medium to evolve. The sub theme of cultural change makes for an amusing counterpoint as the village priest and resident censor can no longer prevent the audiences from watching on-screen kisses. By the time Toto is ready to leave, naked flesh rules the day.

The acting doesn’t feel like acting. Toto is played with equal ferocity and passion by Salvatore Cascio (child), Marco Leonardi (teen), and with adult ennui by Jacques Perrin.

His emotional mother, Maria, who carries a secret of her own, remains gorgeous from her early years as played by Antonella Attili and as a neglected old woman (Pupella Maggio). Philippe Noiret’s Alfredo embodies all that is rustic and uncomplicated – as well as passionate and intense.

Part of the charm of the movie is its great beauty – of the countryside, the narrow passageways of the town with its classic village square, occupied by “the village idiot.” Even the men and women, more rough-hewn than Alfredo, have their singular beauty.

Cinema Paradiso is a much watch.

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