Six Nations of Film- Italy: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Having never seen any Italian films before other than some Spaghetti Westerns which, let’s be honest, can hardly be called ‘Italian’, Cinema Paradiso fits the bill perfectly. Not only is it a quintessentially Italian film that is both written and directed by an Italian, Giuseppe Tornatore, it features an almost entirely Italian cast, and the films plot and story center around one of me and my fellow Raptors’ great passions – cinema.

The multi award winning Cinema Paradiso is set in a small but picturesque Sicilian fishing village Giancaldo, to which famous Italian film director Salvatore Di Vita has just returned home from Rome after being informed of the death of his friend and mentor Alfredo. Alfredo was the much loved and at times underappreciated projectionist at the town’s local cinema that Salavatore (Toto) would frequently visit as a small boy. Whilst back in Sicily, memories of Salvatore’s time on the island, his friendship with Alfredo and his first love start flooding back.  Most importantly though, we come to understand where Salvatore’s love of cinema stemmed from and how it and Alferdo’s influence would shape his life in years to come.

The cinema was a source of escapism for Toto growing up. His father had fought in the Second World War and had not returned home causing his mother to seep into denial and depression. Toto would constantly sneak out to the cinema behind his mothers back and within Cinema Paradiso’s modest walls he experienced sights and sounds the like of which he never could have within Giancaldo, and with Alferdo’s help (which was unforthcoming at first) learned the skills of projection which would allow him to leave his village for bigger and brighter things. Cinema Paradiso is not only the name of the cinema but it totally encompasses how Toto feels about and his relationship with Cinema. It is his paradise, a place where his creative and imaginative mind can flourish, and it saved him from being trapped in the small village cycle, in which many other members of the community have been caged.

Community plays a huge role in Cinema Paradiso just as it does in Italian culture. Due to the village’s small stature and its means of income, the population spend most of their day together, even their free time which is spent watching films. The cinema acts as a hub where the villagers can come together and bond. We see snap shots of how they act with one another within the cinema. A future couple stealing glances at each other from across the theatre, a group of friends playing tricks on each other, and as he enters, a male villager greets the entre hall as a whole while he attempts to find a seat within the rabble. We only ever spend a few moments with each villager but these small glimpses show how strong the community is within Giancaldo.  This sense of community and its post war setting are common themes in early Italian Neorealist cinema.

During the film, we see Toto watching one of Visconti’s films, La Terra Trema, which is a classic example of Italian Neorealism. However it is clear to see that although Cinema Paradiso is set with the Neorealist period, it follows none of its conventions, thus shows how modern Italian cinema has developed. Italian Neorealism focused on depicting Italian life and its political ideals as realistically as possible through using real locations and non actors in roles. In summary, Italian Neorealism was real, rough and unflinching which completely contrasts Cinema Paradiso’s romantic and nostalgic story and vision of the period. Many film theorists and critics alike have criticised the film for this.

Overall I enjoyed Cinema Paradiso. The performances of Philippe Noiret as Alferdo and Salvatore Cascio as young Salvatore were fantastic. I fully believed in their relationship, however odd it may seem, a man in his early fifties bonding with a ten year old child but it works through the realistic dialogue and the actor’s gestures. I only wish I could have spent more time with them during Toto’s teenage years instead of a lack lustre love story taking over, but love is a priority when you’re a teen so the film has to reflect that. Ennio Morricone’s score compliments the film’s romantic tone perfectly, it’s simple mix of strings and woodwind give you the feeling of a rustic Italian village and Morricone’s use of crescendo in the violins when Toto meets his love really captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time. The cinematography and editing is simple but effective. It seems that the director made a conscious decision to let the beautiful Sicilian setting speak for its self.

Before watching, I was a bit unsure if Cinema Paradiso was going to be a little too “sappy” and cliché, (I am known for not liking many films which lay the romantic whimsy on too thick) but I couldn’t help being taken by little Toto and Alferdo’s friendship and the journey on which they embark.

If you haven’t seen Cinema Paradiso I would recommend it, especially as an introduction to Italian cinema, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of romantic nostalgia to warm the heart every now and then.

Laura Nimmo

You can hear Laura give her very entitled opinions on cinema with the rest of her Raptors In The Kitchen pals at, like them on Facebook /RaptorsInTheKitchen and follow them on Twitter @RaptorsPodcast

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