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Cinema Paradiso (1988) is a film directed and written by Giuseppe Tornatore. It is set an era when going to see a film was much more than a viewing. It was about being part of a community. This film is in Italian, yet, this film can speak to anybody. A viewer can easily follow and relate to what is going on. Cinema Paradiso exists in the place of memory and shared experiences. The plot evolves as the experiences of Salvatore, the film’s protagonist, are recalled.
Initially, we see Toto (Salvatore) as a middleaged man, but the plot quickly moves back to when he was just a boy going around the streets of small-town Italy in the 1950’s. Toto is mesmerized by films of all sort and thus, he spends all his time around the town’s movie theater, also known as, Cinema Paradiso. Alfredo, the cinema’s projectionist, fascinates Toto. Little Toto wants to learn every single thing there is to know about film and projection.
Alfredo teaches young Toto how to work the projector and exactly what to do when a film disaster, such as a reel breaking or the tape catching on fire, occurs. Because Toto never had a father in his life, Alfredo becomes the father figure to Toto and treats him like his own son. After a fire happens that leaves Alfredo blind and unable to work anymore. Toto becomes the Cinema’s resident projectionist. Many years go by, and we now see Toto as a young adult around 17 or 18 years old.
He still works at the Cinema although, Alfredo tells him he is too good to be doing this his whole life and constantly tries to get him to move on to bigger and better things. Toto shoots a documentary around town. While filming, he meets Elena and immediately falls in love with her. Toto goes to Alfredo for some advice and just ends up getting a sob story of a man who never got the girl. Toto uses this as inspiration and after getting rejected by Elena, he proposes to wait under her balcony. After waiting for countless nights under her balcony, he gives up and goes back to the projection room feeling hurt and rejected. In classic Hollywood fashion, Elena follows him to the projection room and they share their first kiss.
Elena’s father does not approve of the relationship and ends up sending her away for the summer, but that doesn’t stop Toto from waiting for her. We see Toto in a slew of lonely situations and left to his own thoughts. One night, while the town was watching Ulysse on a white-walled building outside, a violent storm broke loose leaving everybody to flee except for Toto. In a typical movie cliché, Elena shows up and they share a passionate moment in the pouring rain. Things soon change as Toto is sent to do military service. During all this time, he tries to connect with Elena, but the letters are returned. It becomes apparent that in fact, he does not get the girl and must do what he can to move on. Upon his return from the military, Alfredo demands that Toto must leave town and go to Rome to live out his destiny. Alfredo is no longer quoting films to give advice, he is direct and real saying, “Life isn’t like the movies, it’s much harder… Go back to Rome.” The older, more mature Salvatore packs his things to go, and the townspeople gather to say their last goodbye. This scene shows just how important Alfredo is in Toto’s life, perhaps even more important than his own family. Toto promises to not come back to Sicily, showing that no matter what, he will respect and obey Alfredo. The film cuts thirty years into the future and Salvatore, who is now a successful director, gets news of Alfredo’s death. Salvatore returns home to his mother waiting for him in the new house he bought for her.
She shows him ‘his’ room – which he’s never even seen – and it is sort of a shrine to the young Toto. The camera zooms in on an old photo of Toto and Alfredo, reminding us how important their relationship was. Cutting to Alfredo’s funeral, we see the old faces we know from Salvatore’s childhood all gathered to pay their respects to Alfredo. The widow tells Salvatore that Alfredo was always talking about him, but he never wanted him to come back to Sicily. This truly shows how much Salvatore really meant to Alfredo. After seeing the old Cinema owner, Salvatore is told that the Cinema will be demolished in upcoming days. All in all, Cinema Paradiso is a film that will always connect with viewers. This movie shows the extent of film spectatorship and what it really meant to people. In modern times, the experience of film as a community is almost gone, and people watch films alone on their computers and phones.
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