When it comes to
Guiseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, I can confidently say that the Italian
film is the mother of all romantic clichés. That might sound a little
obnoxious, but let me follow that up with admitting that it is one of the most
powerful romance films I’ve had the chance to see.
As if in recognition to the main
theme of the film, the end result was changed repeatedly to cater to the needs
of modern day audiences. The film was originally released as a 155 minute long
film in Italy, where it failed to perform at the box office. Later on it was
shortened to 123 minutes to accommodate the attention and interest span of
international audiences, and the result was the 62nd Academy Awards
foreign language film winner Cinema Paradiso.
Shot in Tornatore’s hometown of
Baghera, Sicily, and set in Rome post world war 2, the story follows the life
events of young Toto, as he goes from a young country raised child into a renowned
film director. Young Toto shows great interest in cinema, which translates to
him getting a job at his local cinema’s projection room, as a projectionist’s
apprentice. However, as his mentor Alfredo realizes the potential Toto (now
Salvatore) has and how that potential will stay hidden if Salvatore is to stay
in town, Alfredo pressures him into going out of town and pursuing his dreams,
even going as far as telling Salvatore’s love interest Elena that if she really
cared for him, she would let him go. Now facing the loss of Elena as she had
left with her family, Salvatore leaves Sicily to pursue his dreams. The film
then starts as Salvatore gets news of Alfredo’s death, and goes back home to
attend the funeral. A twist of fate leads Salvatore to find Elena, who is now married
with children, and he comes to realize what Alfredo had done.
The film realistically focuses on
the post World War 2 Italian society and how people assumed different roles.
Men went to war and young men served at the military, as was the case in most
of the countries that took part in the war. The film handles many themes, most
apparent being evolution, whether personal or societal, with the subthemes
being cinema as a media technology, influence of church through censorship, and
most importantly love.
Cinema is one of
the first media technologies that incorporated audio and video, and being there
since the late 1800’s it has naturally evolved over time, in form and in
importance to audience. The film revolves around a very important era of the
evolution of cinema, as it transformed from a window to the world, to an
optional method of entertainment. People at the beginning of the film live in a
small town in Sicily, with small town values and limited exposure to the
In the beginning, Cinema was a
window that would show the people of Giancaldo, foreign values and foreign
societies. Throughout the years documented in the film, the role of cinema as
the primary source of outside information fades away primarily as the TV comes
in, and people no longer have to pay to get some audiovisual entertainment, and
secondarily as people of the town now have cars and are able to leave the town
at their own pleasure, and witness the world in person.
This subtheme is highlighted even
more when Salvatore witnesses the demolition of the Cinema to make way to a
parking lot, a parking lot that’s necessary for the
town’s people so they can park their cars, the same cars that more than ever
lessen the need for cinema as a window to the outside world.
Next is the subtheme of censorship, and
the way it evolved alongside the change of times. In the first few scenes of
the film is a sequence that shows the town priest alone, watching the films
that are to be projected in the cinema and deciding which scenes are to be
The result is films that have
obviously been altered and somehow incomplete, reminiscent of watching a film
on Saudi-based MBC2. Alone, the priest decides whether a scene would be
included or not. The power of church on society is so strong that one person
representing the church can make such decisions (regardless of the fact that
even the priest is shown to briefly enjoy the intimate scenes). Unlike MBC2
however, as times advance we notice that the priest stops attending prior
screenings, kisses and intimate scenes now make it to the projected cuts of the
films, and the layer of censorship that was previously there isn’t anymore.
The church, or at least this
specific priest has turned over the power of controlling what people can or
cannot see to the projectionist, a fact that Salvatore notices and takes
advantage of. The power of the church is not as strong as it used to be, and
people are freer to see what they please.
Finally is the subtheme that corresponds
to the genre of the film, love. Two types of love-based relationships are
present in Cinema Paradiso. First is the fatherly love Alfredo expresses
towards Toto. Alfredo teaches Toto his job; a sign of selflessness that can
only be seen in father-son relationships. He acts as Toto’s moral compass when
Toto is still young, and as a mentor and guide as Toto becomes Salvatore. In
parallel is Salvatore’s romantic relationship with Elena.
As the romance between the two
strengthens, the connection between Salvatore and cinema personified by Alfredo
weakens. Knowing of what might happen to Salvatore in case his relationship
with Elena remains, Alfredo convinces Elena that if she loves Salvatore she
should let him go. Salvatore’s inability to read the note that Elena secretly
left him, meant that he couldn’t know where she left to, and had no means of
reaching her. Salvatore then, on Alfredo’s command goes to Rome and pursues his
dream, and is able to reach success, but at the cost of losing his lover, as
well as his father-figure. This demonstrated the struggle between love and career
that started with Salvatore contempt with living in Giancaldo with Elena, then
their love dying for the sake of his career pursuit.
Salvatore then goes home to
discover that it is too late to take a different road in life, as Alfredo has
died and Elena is now married, and even though the love that Salvatore and
Elena shared was still there as they shared a last night together, it was her
time to prioritize her life over love. In the struggle between life and love,
life won this time.
Death of a
father, poor boy falls in love with rich girl, going to the military, love
letters lost and found after years, are some of the clichés that lie around
every corner in Cinema Paradiso, but somehow it feels okay. The film caters to
the entertainment needs of most people; the plot clichés attract the general
audience, while the underlying themes attract hopeless romantics. The degree of
attachment to the characters in the film especially Salvatore is strengthened
by the realistic change within society, cinema, and love through time. In
Cinema Paradiso the main variable is time, and the only constant is change.