Best Movies: “Cinema Paradiso” (1989)

December 10, 2011

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (New Paradise Cinema), internationally released as “Cinema Paradiso”, is an Italian comedy drama film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. I think Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece, a 9/10 movie, that Tornatore made it in 1988, at the age of 32. It’s about a famous film director, Salvatore (Toto), and his life in Italy, specially his childhood in 1950s and 1960s. The Iranian society has many similarities with the Italian society, and “Cinema Paradiso” can be considered as a film about Iran and the Iranian society, too. After receiving news about the death of an old friend (Alfredo), Toto remembers his childhood as a smart son of a war widow in a Sicilian town and at the Cinema Paradiso where Alfredo, the projectionist, treated him as his son. Told in a flashback, Salvatore reminiscences about his childhood and his relationship with Alfredo. Under the fatherly influence of Alfredo, Toto falls in love with film and cinema, and learn many things. The film was originally released in Italy at 155 minutes, but poor box office performance led to it being shortened to 120 minutes for international release. This international version won many awards, from Oscar and Golden Globe to Cannes and BAFTA. In 2002, the director’s cut 175-minute version was released, that was a masterpiece. The Mullah TV has showed it once, in about 80 minutes ! that was quite nonsense, a collection of unrelated scenes. But the three-hour international director’s cut (175 minutes) is really a masterpiece. It’s a story about friendship, love, cinema, people, humanity, religion, censorship, Italian society, history, and many other things. The priest that censors the movies is like the Mullahs, and the atmosphere inside the cinema and the small town is like what you could see in Iran in the past decades. In the several scenes of the movies being shown in the cinema, there is frequent booing from the audience, during the “censored” sections. The films suddenly jump, missing a kiss or embrace. In fact, the local priest, that is like a moderate Mullah, has ordered that these sections be cut out. The film attempts to educate the “outsider” not familiar with Italian society after the world war II. You can watch it again and again and see more and more details that pertain to the people and the history.


The uncut Cinema Paradiso is more than anything else about life and the effect of the decisions we make . Alfredo, a wise but illiterate guy whose life has been wasted by the stupidities of his time and his stupid town, tries to prevent Toto from wasting his life and making stupid decisions. In one of the best scenes, Alferedo advises Toto and says : “Get out of here! Go to Rome. You’re young and the world is yours. I’m old. I don’t want to hear you talk anymore. I want to hear others talking about you. Don’t come back. Don’t think about us. Don’t look back. Don’t write. Don’t give in to nostalgia. Forget us all. If you do and you come back, don’t come see me. I won’t let you in my house. Understand? Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.” It’s what many wise Iranians tell their children or the youth in today’s Iran, about leaving Iran and its Mullah hell. But unfortunately, many who leave Iran become stupider than Iranians inside Iran. Maybe Alfredo’s advise is only good and helpful for the wise and smart guys, not for everybody. Anyway, Alfredo also adds: “Living here day by day, you think it’s the center of the world. You believe nothing will ever change. Then you leave: a year, two years. When you come back, everything’s changed. You have to go away for a long time, many years , before you can come back and find your people, and the land where you were born. Right now you’re blinder than I am. Toto: ‘Who said that? Gary Cooper? James Stewart? Henry Fonda?’ Alfredo: ‘No, Toto. Nobody said it. This time it’s all me. Life isn’t like in the movies. Life, is much harder“. What Alfredo says about love, that changes Toto’s life, can be very helpful for many youths: “Out of the fire of love come ashes. Even the greatest love eventually fizzles out”. Some critics say: “This film makes you laugh and makes you cry, yet it is so simple and straightforward. There is no Hollywood superstars, no special effects, just pure emotions and feelings, love, fear, grief and regret, nostalgia for childhood and youth, memories of places and times that will not come back, memories of the loved ones. This movie is there to affect your feelings.”


The three-hour international director’s cut (175 Minutes), is a masterpiece. Divided into three sections, the first section is about little Toto and Alfredo. One of the best scenes is Toto’s face as he watches the footage that will be censored by the town priest. The second section shows Toto as a youth, when he falls in love with Elena. The story of relationship between Toto and Elena, and her parent reactions, and many other things reminds Iranians of today’s Iran and yesterday’s Iran. In the final section, Salvatore, now a great film director, returns to his town after 30 years to attend Alfredo’s funeral. Salvatore’s reunion with Elena, Salvatore’s reunion with his mother, beside seeing his sister and the old people and old friends, shows us the bitter truth, the tragedy of life, and also the depth of Alfredo’s wisdom. The audience inside the cinema Paradiso are great. The man who only goes to the cinema to sleep and is always awoken by kids, the thugs and mobs, the priest who censors the movies, the couple who see each other for the first time, the fascist who spits on others, the couple who make love in the cinema, the prostitute who works in the cinema, and the people, specially the kids and the youth, who scare, laugh, boo, or masturbate, and many other things are interesting. Ennio Morricone’s music is great, and it’s really hard to find a serious weak point in the film. Alfredo complains and says: “Progress always comes late”, and it’s what many say in Iran and all around the world. ‘Progress always comes late’, but disasters and tragedies always come soon. And it’s part of the tragedy of life. If you want to see a good movie about the human life, and how similar the humans and their life are in all around the world, you can watch “Cinema Paradiso”.