When it comes toGuiseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, I can confidently say that the Italianfilm is the mother of all romantic clichés. That might sound a littleobnoxious, but let me follow that up with admitting that it is one of the mostpowerful romance films I’ve had the chance to see. As if in recognition to the maintheme of the film, the end result was changed repeatedly to cater to the needsof modern day audiences. The film was originally released as a 155 minute longfilm in Italy, where it failed to perform at the box office. Later on it wasshortened to 123 minutes to accommodate the attention and interest span ofinternational audiences, and the result was the 62nd Academy Awardsforeign language film winner Cinema Paradiso.
Shot in Tornatore’s hometown ofBaghera, Sicily, and set in Rome post world war 2, the story follows the lifeevents of young Toto, as he goes from a young country raised child into a renownedfilm director. Young Toto shows great interest in cinema, which translates tohim getting a job at his local cinema’s projection room, as a projectionist’sapprentice. However, as his mentor Alfredo realizes the potential Toto (nowSalvatore) has and how that potential will stay hidden if Salvatore is to stayin 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 reallycared for him, she would let him go. Now facing the loss of Elena as she hadleft with her family, Salvatore leaves Sicily to pursue his dreams. The filmthen starts as Salvatore gets news of Alfredo’s death, and goes back home toattend the funeral.
A twist of fate leads Salvatore to find Elena, who is now marriedwith children, and he comes to realize what Alfredo had done. The film realistically focuses onthe 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 mostof the countries that took part in the war. The film handles many themes, mostapparent being evolution, whether personal or societal, with the subthemesbeing cinema as a media technology, influence of church through censorship, andmost importantly love. Cinema is one ofthe first media technologies that incorporated audio and video, and being theresince the late 1800’s it has naturally evolved over time, in form and inimportance to audience. The film revolves around a very important era of theevolution of cinema, as it transformed from a window to the world, to anoptional method of entertainment. People at the beginning of the film live in asmall town in Sicily, with small town values and limited exposure to theoutside societies.
In the beginning, Cinema was awindow that would show the people of Giancaldo, foreign values and foreignsocieties. Throughout the years documented in the film, the role of cinema asthe primary source of outside information fades away primarily as the TV comesin, and people no longer have to pay to get some audiovisual entertainment, andsecondarily as people of the town now have cars and are able to leave the townat their own pleasure, and witness the world in person. This subtheme is highlighted evenmore when Salvatore witnesses the demolition of the Cinema to make way to aparking lot, a parking lot that’s necessary for thetown’s people so they can park their cars, the same cars that more than everlessen the need for cinema as a window to the outside world.
Next is the subtheme of censorship, andthe way it evolved alongside the change of times. In the first few scenes ofthe film is a sequence that shows the town priest alone, watching the filmsthat are to be projected in the cinema and deciding which scenes are to beremoved. The result is films that haveobviously been altered and somehow incomplete, reminiscent of watching a filmon Saudi-based MBC2. Alone, the priest decides whether a scene would beincluded or not. The power of church on society is so strong that one personrepresenting the church can make such decisions (regardless of the fact thateven the priest is shown to briefly enjoy the intimate scenes). Unlike MBC2however, as times advance we notice that the priest stops attending priorscreenings, kisses and intimate scenes now make it to the projected cuts of thefilms, and the layer of censorship that was previously there isn’t anymore.
The church, or at least thisspecific priest has turned over the power of controlling what people can orcannot see to the projectionist, a fact that Salvatore notices and takesadvantage of. The power of the church is not as strong as it used to be, andpeople are freer to see what they please.Finally is the subtheme that correspondsto the genre of the film, love. Two types of love-based relationships arepresent in Cinema Paradiso. First is the fatherly love Alfredo expressestowards Toto. Alfredo teaches Toto his job; a sign of selflessness that canonly be seen in father-son relationships. He acts as Toto’s moral compass whenToto is still young, and as a mentor and guide as Toto becomes Salvatore.
Inparallel is Salvatore’s romantic relationship with Elena. As the romance between the twostrengthens, the connection between Salvatore and cinema personified by Alfredoweakens. Knowing of what might happen to Salvatore in case his relationshipwith Elena remains, Alfredo convinces Elena that if she loves Salvatore sheshould let him go.
Salvatore’s inability to read the note that Elena secretlyleft him, meant that he couldn’t know where she left to, and had no means ofreaching her. Salvatore then, on Alfredo’s command goes to Rome and pursues hisdream, and is able to reach success, but at the cost of losing his lover, aswell as his father-figure. This demonstrated the struggle between love and careerthat started with Salvatore contempt with living in Giancaldo with Elena, thentheir love dying for the sake of his career pursuit.Salvatore then goes home todiscover that it is too late to take a different road in life, as Alfredo hasdied and Elena is now married, and even though the love that Salvatore andElena shared was still there as they shared a last night together, it was hertime to prioritize her life over love. In the struggle between life and love,life won this time.
Death of afather, poor boy falls in love with rich girl, going to the military, loveletters lost and found after years, are some of the clichés that lie aroundevery corner in Cinema Paradiso, but somehow it feels okay. The film caters tothe entertainment needs of most people; the plot clichés attract the generalaudience, while the underlying themes attract hopeless romantics. The degree ofattachment to the characters in the film especially Salvatore is strengthenedby the realistic change within society, cinema, and love through time. InCinema Paradiso the main variable is time, and the only constant is change.