Lionsgate // 1988 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // October 19th, 2011
"This is no job for you. You're like a slave and always by yourself. You see a film 100 times. You've nothing else to do. You talk to Greta Garbo and Tyrone Power like an idiot. You work like a dog."
Giuseppe Tornatore's ode to the splendor and vitality of the cinematic medium has been released on a less than stellar Blu-ray. Kind of ironic.
Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio, Everybody's Fine) is a rebellious young boy who spends more time watching films at the Cinema Paradiso than obeying his mother, his priest, or his teacher. Every night after Salvatore has taken in another cinematic classic, he retreats up to the Paradiso's cramped projection booth to pester Alfredo (Philippe Noiret, Il Postino) about his craft. Salvatore will learn about love, life, and death through his connection with film and be set upon a certain path by Alfredo, who has recognized a greatness in the boy. 30 years later, Salvatore returns home to attend Alfredo's funeral and to see first-hand the price that passion and dedication can have.
Cinema Paradiso is one of those films that is almost impossible to hate. With its charming cast of characters, beautiful sets and locations, and classically directed style, the film is almost manipulative in the way that it pulls your heart strings. But in these comedy/drama hybrids manipulation isn't always a bad thing. This sentimental coming-of-age tale of nostalgia, lost love, and the comfortable warmth of searing memories is about as perfectly executed as you could want. Where it truly touches me on a personal level is in capturing the true beauty that cinema, and celluloid itself, can have on an impressionable youth. No other film has captured that indescribable fluttery feeling a person gets in their heart when they see a classic up on the big screen for the first time quite like Cinema Paradiso has.
We're first introduced to Salvatore as a man somewhere in his late 40s. A famous film director, Salvatore also shows early hints of weariness, jadedness, and a certain sense of apprehension towards showing outer emotion. He's a man who's lost touch with passion. But in a great -- if clichéd -- narrative structure, the audience enters Salvatore's mind as he flashes back to his early childhood. It is in this flashback where most of the film takes place.
The most interesting part is that this flashback is not simply a retelling of reality but is instead a fully fallible recollection from memory. These sequences have the fingerprints of Salvatore's subjective and idealized memory all over them; subject to exaggerations and quirks. It creates a feeling in the audience that they're being retold these stories by a fallible narrator instead of having the events regurgitated in bullet points as if some all-seeing power were watching. This feeling is only heightened by Giuseppe Tornatore's directing, which covers the whole film in an almost dream-like haze and in how he also uses his shot composition to reflect character perspective. Ennio Morricone's score only synthesizes this nostalgic feeling by combining playfully manic musical segments with more grounded gravitas to create a score that is both youthful and weathered. The influence of Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita) is also not hard to spot; the most readily apparent influence being fellini's Amarcord and his portrayal of an eccentrically rural Italian town, which Tornatore perfectly mirrors here.
Most importantly, Tornatore showcases scenes from countless classic films and draws a parallel between the on-screen image and the burgeoning sense of maturation in Salvatore. The films become father figures and teachers for the young boy. His first inklings of sexuality and death come from the Paradiso's screen and, by extension, Alberto becomes a god-like figure to the boy. He's the man who ties all these confusing images and feelings together for Salvatore and he's the man who distills a sense of passion and purpose in the boy. It's beautifully rich to watch, combining drama and comedy in unprecedented ways, to create a pure cinematic experience that will touch even the shrewdest of people.
As the film jumps forward to Salvatore's teenage years, one could make the case that the narrative veers into a dangerous kind of manipulative melodrama because of Alfredo's growing blindness and Salvatore's forbidden love. It's a fair point, but because of how flawlessly it's pulled off I find nothing wrong with how the film knowingly progresses to take advantage of weaknesses in the viewer's heart. To say that Salvatore's return to his hometown for the first time since Alfredo set him on his path -- to attend the very same man's funeral -- is touching in the most profound sort of way would be an understatement. These themes of lost love, of forgotten memories and dreams, of nostalgia and of sublime joy in the beauty of the human condition become so fully realized as the grown Salvatore watches Alfredo's final cinematic lesson that it's difficult not to break down and weep at how hard yet beautiful this world is. It's a scene that will forever stay in your memory and also why Cinema Paradiso is considered a classic.
It should be noted that the 1.66:1(1080p) transfer on this AVC encoded Blu-ray is surprisingly flat even for a film that's never looked great on home video. Colors are washed out and de-saturated, the print is marred in damage in certain spots and there's no real sense of clarity or vibrancy. The inconsistency of the black levels doesn't help either. But as the film settles in, the picture quality improves and impresses in long shots and a few close ups. Detail and vibrant colors start to pop up and a nice film grain remains constant. It's not great but it's the best the film has looked. The DTS-HD Master mono track is similarly flat and uneventful, with Morricone's beautiful score not given the justice it deserves. It's not exactly a film that needs a pounding 5.1 track though, so it's not a huge complaint.
The special features however are maddeningly sparse with just a theatrical trailer for the film being offered. Because of the price point of this Blu-ray, it's most certainly a budget release. But even budget releases don't need to be this average in the technical department. All in all though, Cinema Paradiso is still an amazing film.
It should also be noted that this Blu-ray contains the 124 minute international release of the film instead of the 155 minute Italian version. As it stands, the shorter version cuts out an entire segment of the film where Salvatore returns to his hometown and is reunited with his first true love. There's an argument to be made that the longer cut strains the viewer's attention too much, and it's true, but it also completely changes the dynamic of Salvatore's relationship with Alfredo and the meaning of the ending. All I can say is that it would have been perfect for both cuts of the film to find their way on to this Blu-ray so people could see for themselves. There's also a 173 minute director's cut widely available on DVD but it's too self-indulgent for my tastes.
Not guilty, but only because the film is so good.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG