DIRECTOR: GIUSEPPE TORNATORE
ITALY 1990 - and later re-released with more scenes
CAST: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili
MUSIC: ENNIO MORRICONE
ONE WORD: The story line and the acting
Every once in a while a film comes along that just tears your heart out. It doesn't have to be sad, or funny, but it has a story that is really smooth, and goes all the way to the end, without you having any idea of what could possibly happen. And in this case it is also a nice primer for American audiences as to how important film was in that time to people, and how they got inspired by it. Today we tend to ignore that a lot, but in those days, this was one of the first views of another world ...
CINEMA PARADISO is just such a film. and perhaps it affects me more than it might an American, because I lived in a country where the church still had enough control over everyday life, to censor a lot of material from the films. In the fifties and sixties, Europe was awash with the NEW WAVE of film makers, and actors. They were the likes of the FEDERICO FELLINI, MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI, FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT, JEAN LUC GODARD, LUIS BUNUEL, LAWRENCE OLIVIER, MARLON BRANDO, and the type of script material that the church was not exactly proud of. And in the smaller towns, the authorities had a control that they didn't in larger cities. The trick was to ban the films, and, of course, make them famous. Because of this censorship, many films were always cut up and would end in other towns with one less scene. And the original, steamy, low cut blouse, or bra, was no longer in the film. And the original bad line was now over dubbed by a cut, missing frames of film.
CINEMA PARADISO is a film that touches upon this movement in the fifties, in a small Italian town, where the catholic priest is both judge and jury to all the " filth " in the arts, specially the movies. And Alfredo has to show each film for the priest first, and then show it to the public without the pieces which he was told to cut. In comes Salvatore, a little boy who loved the romance, and the movies. And like Alfredo, he has a romantic love for all the films, and a desire to be a part of it all. Through out this film, we see many of the now 'historic films' of the time ( ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS, THE BICICLE THIEF, and several American films as well. Even parts are taken out of Walt Disney's Fantasia.!!! ) and the scenes which Alfredo was told to cut. Salvatore, who has become an assistant to the aging projectionist, sits on the floor and admires the 'filth' while he is being told he should stop being obstinate, and go home. He stays for the whole film.
As the story develops, there are several moments which are really fun. Once a month Alfredo finds an evening to show a film before the priest gets to cut it, or collect money for the showing. At midnight he turns to projector around and flashes the film on the side of a building, to an ecstatic audience sitting everywhere. They heartily applaud, until one night the priest catches on and stops all the midnight shows.
Salvatore becomes a film maker himself, and one day, in the middle of a censorship crisis in his own film, he receives a note from the small town he came from. Alfredo is dying. He runs for it. When he gets there, it is too late, but Alfredo left him a present, which he brings back to Rome. He sets up a screening for himself, and the last five minutes are a miriad of all the cut scenes strung together. It's all the kisses, all the damn's, all the low cut shots, and it makes you cry. But it all has survived the church, which is a point of contention which Alfredo always spoke of cynically.
The really wonderful thing in this movie is Phillipe Noiret as Alfredo. His style of acting has always been a kind of 'devil may care attitude' which at times I found hard to digest. A bit of a male chauvinist, and a bit of a jerk. It is an attitude which is often shown in French films about French men and their lack of sensitivity, specially women. The culmination of this style was seen in another of his films which was brutal black comedy, called COUP DE TOURCHON ( roughly translates as 'shot of saving grace' ) and winds up in this film, as a lovable man, contemptuous of the church's petty attitudes. And the youngster Salvatore ( Jacques Perrin ) who has a gleam in his eye and his smile which is addictive.
This film was written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, and has much beauty in it, and should be seen. Americans might never know that they always had it so good. the world is just now catching up to it. The famous McCarthy era thing was similar in many ways ... a desire to control people by not letting them see, or feel, or think ... anything else in their lives, and at the time movies were a huge threat to that thinking ... and Europe had developed their art scene (also had the 2nd tier of Hollywood style fluff films), while America seriousness in film was relatively minor and did not get very serious until much later in the 60's.
See it. You will enjoy it.
Copyright (c) Pedro Sena 1994
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