Movie of the (Last) Week: Cinema Paradiso

First off, apologies for missing this post last week; we had some scheduling conflicts so this week will have double the posts. At any rate…

So often my moviegoing experience (by my own design) involves excitement, thrills, action, quips, and if I’m lucky some emotional resonance too. But it’s not often that I experience a movie where the first word that comes to mind is Beautiful, I mean that in the most elemental way possible; Cinema Paradiso is one of the most Beautiful movie experiences I can recall having. The core of that Beauty is the sheer romanticism at play, both in regards to relationships and cinema. And while this sort of romanticism might be dismissed by plenty of modern film buffs (just look at the level of crap Spielberg catches for being sentimental), when it’s done right it is- you guessed it- Beautiful.

I’d argue that it’s a great trick of filmmaking that Giuseppe Tornatore can convince an adult man in 21st century New York that he’d rather be a young lower class boy in postwar Italy, and yet that was the thought that occurred to me while watching young Salvatore play around the projector and the film reels at the Paradiso. Throughout the story the enthusiasm for film is palpable, and largely made so by the human bonds that are forged over nights at the cinema. Seeing Salvatore’s growing passion for movies, and the encouragement of that passion by Alfredo, obviously connected with me, as did Alfredo’s insistence that Salvatore dream beyond the Paradiso, beyond the projection booth, beyond the town.

Aside from Salvatore’s relationship with Alfredo, the recurring beats around the young couple as they go from courtship through to having a family, as well as the various little glimpses of life in this town as it intersects with the Paradiso, give the movie a great deal of life and emotional investment, and shows the connection between film and filmgoer. But amongst all of this cinematic life, perhaps the two most heartbreaking moments for me were seeing the blind Alfredo for the first time (knowing that he’d never get to see his beloved movies again, much less Salvatore’s), and the reveal of the gutted and condemned Paradiso during Alfredo’s funeral. But it is only through those heartbreaking losses that you can appreciate what movies gave these people while they had them, and makes the final keepsake from Alfredo to Salvatore all the more touching. To me, the ending speaks to the endurance of film, not through the theater or through seeing it alone, but from memory and emotion, and from the bonds that are forged through it, which is something that I identify with greatly.

And here’s Shiran’s perspective on her choice for the week:

I have a lot of feelings about Cinema Paradiso, which for years was my default “favorite movie” pick. I last watched it about four years ago, and in that time I started to remember the movie as maybe a little too sappy and sentimental, so I was pretty nervous about showing it to Brendan (but not too nervous, because God that ending is perfect). Upon rewatch, though, I was happy to find the movie was far more complex than people give it credit for. Cinema Paradiso has a lot of fairly nuanced things to say about progress, nostalgia, and the disappointments of real life when compared to a beautiful imagination. Rather than a pat celebration of cinema, the movie’s is a more bittersweet exploration of our fascination with movies, and it happens to have one of the most beautiful and multilayered endings in film history. Salvatore realizes his life has been missing the type of true love he had lost with Elena and his youth in his pursuit of being a successful director. But as a final gift, Alfredo gives him the only type of love that never fades or changes or disappears: a film reel of kisses to make up for all that ones he didn’t get to have. It’s a spectacularly moving ending, and watching it with my boyfriend for the first time added a particular layer of emotion for me. When I watched Cinema Paradiso as a reclusive highschooler I connected so much to Salvatore that I wept at that ending, wondering if like him I was too in love with make believe to ever experience the type of love in that film reel with another person. Last night, I still wept at the ending, but this time I was happy to be wrong about that.

My next selection should be up in a day or two, as we’ll be watching it soon. Should provide a nice contrast to this one.

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