In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Possibly the absolute best movie of the 80s.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“Not to take credit away from the Lord, but if I had created the world, in all modesty, certain things would have come out better. But unfortunately such was not the case.”
The word ‘nostalgia’ usually comes with negative connotations when talking about movies. I think it’s often seen as kind of cheap in its manipulations. And I tend to agree with that. But there are times when I’m totally fine with those cheap manipulations. When a movie trades on the nostalgia for a time or place that I myself am also nostalgic about, then obviously it’s a shortcut to generating my interest. The other, is when a movie manages to make me nostalgic for a time and place I have absolutely no connection to. Which is exactly what I got from the phenomenal Cinema Paradiso.
In 80s Rome, the middle aged and respected film maker Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) is awoken in the middle of the night to learn that someone from his home town has died, promoting his first visit in over three decades, and prompting a flash back to his time as a young boy. In post WWII Sicily, young Salvatore (Slavatire Cascio), affectionately known as Toto, spends all of his spare time in the local cinema, fascinated by the projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). But this is more than just a movie house, it’s the centre of Toto’s life, and the centre of his small village. A place where young and old, rich and poor, all gather together every night, to escape their lives, and jointly jeer the clunky edits dictated by the local priest, censoring even the most chaste kiss.When an accident means Alfredo can no longer work the projector, Toto is given the job. Cut to half a dozen years later, and Toto is a teenager now played by Marco Leonardi, still working in the projection booth. But now it’s time for some coming of age stuff, like discovering girls, and deciding that watching movies is no longer enough, he wants to make his own.
First off all, I would call Cinema Paradiso a legit masterpiece. So let’s just get that out of the way before I spend the next couple of hundred words gushing about it. But what I liked most is the way it indirectly shows what leads Toto to becoming a film maker. The character never blatantly says that’s what he wants to be or really even works toward the specific goal. He doesn’t even pick up a camera for the first time until after the half way mark. Instead, it shows the points in his life that subconsciously send him down that path.
It also portrays the seminal moments in his life in a way that I don’t think movies do often enough. Cinema Paradiso depicts the major, character forming moments in Toto’s life in a way that the audience sees as major and character forming, but Toto is so close, he never recognises them in the moment. There’s no inner monologue, or revelatory expression that shows Toto realising that this is the moment he knew he had to be a film maker, or that this was the first love of his of life, or that this is where boyhood ends and manhood begins. He’s living his life and taking it as it comes, we get to see it with the wider context of where it’s headed.
From Noiret giving the perfect performance as the ultimate mentor and surrogate father as Alfredo, to Cascio delivering in a way that no kid that young should be able to, I’m struggling to find a single fault. Maybe my positive reaction to this movie will fade as I get a little distance and hindsight. But right now, hours after a watching it, I think Cinema Paradiso might be one of the best movies ever made. Possibly the absolute best movie of the 80s.