Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) (1989) (Italy) I think there’s a sort of sweetness meter in my head that I can apply to movies. It’s a bit of a fuzzy line, but I usually know when a movie is not safe for diabetics, which I am (Type II). This movie skates right up to that line but never actually crosses, so it’s okay in my book. I don’t mind sentimentality in a movie, in fact I can quite like it, as long as it doesn’t go overboard.
A famous film director learns of the death of Alfredo, a man who was once very important in his life, and reluctantly returns to his home town in Sicily. Alfredo actually told him, thirty years ago, to never return, that the little town would stunt his growth as an artist.
Alfredo was the projectionist in the local picture show. Salvatore was a movie-mad child who managed to wheedle his way into the heart of the gruff older man. This is all entirely believable. Alfredo is not an ogre, and he quickly takes to the boy. Salvatore learns the projectionist business, and is soon running the big clanky old machine, with its dangerously flammable celluloid film.
At some point the film jams, the film catches fire and spreads rapidly. Salvatore drags the man down the stairs, saving his life, but he is blinded. The theater is refurbished by one of the villagers who won the lottery. When Salvatore returns, the Paradiso is a hulk, about to be demolished.
That is pretty much the plot. Salvatore is played by three actors, as a child, an adolescent, and an adult. The rest is a series of truly magical scenes, as when Alfredo arranges lenses and mirrors to throw the image of a film onto the side of a building. Or when the kid only has one copy of a film that has to be shown in two theaters in two different towns, so someone has to bicycle between the two as each reel ends and a new one is spooled up. Quite funny and touching.
There is so much more to treasure here. I’m going to reveal the ending, because I don’t think it will hurt anything. But you have been warned …
One of the funniest things is the local priest, who views every film that comes to town, alone. Whenever a couple is kissing on the screen, he looks angry and rings a bell. Alfredo marks the place with a strip of paper, and later goes back and cuts out those scenes. The people aren’t at all happy with it, but they can’t do anything. Then Alfredo leaves a dying gift to Salvatore, a canister of film where all those kissing scenes have been spliced together. The adult Salvatore sits in a dark theater and watches kiss after kiss after kiss, with tears in his eyes. There were tears in my eyes, too. Okay, I’m a sentimental slob, and proud of it.