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Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore) 1988


    I’m fully aware that Giuseppe Tornatore’s Italian tearjerker Cinema Paradiso is beloved by many, but I can’t drum up much goodwill for it. Telling the story of a young boy’s relationship to a projectionist and, more importantly, to popular film, it never is afraid to simplify itself further so that no one watching feels left out of its banality. When the young boy’s mentor tells him not to give into nostalgia, the sentiment feels laughable considering this film’s reverence to all things wistful. There are never-ending emotional climaxes here, but the film drags on despite the fact that things keep happening quickly. Thanks to a glaring plot hole, the film’s one inspired moment, the ending montage, relies on the audience’s inability to remember a fire that takes place midway through the picture, but plot holes are the least of this shallow and unbelievably corny movie’s problems.


    The movie is hopelessly manipulative. No emotion remains unnoted by Ennio Morricone’s ever-present score. There’s never any doubt about what we’re supposed to think during a scene, and that emotional simplicity seems a cheat. I have apprehensive, conflicted feelings about most of my favorite films, because they provoke thoughts and feelings in me that I might not have otherwise had, and because they change as I mature between my viewings of them. This film would have you thinking that everyone who ever watched any film would have the exact same reaction, and its own workmanlike construction seems to place its bets on that shoddy theory. I couldn’t imagine any complex reaction coming from a pretty, but facile, film such as this. Worst of all, much of the second act is dominated not by love of cinema, but by a case of teenage puppy love (presumably inserted with the intention of creating more classic love scenes), and that apparent lack of faith in the subject matter undermines the whole affair. How are we to believe in the power of the movies when this one can’t even hold our attention by celebrating them? The underdeveloped people in this town are a bunch of churlish and saucer-eyed dopes, especially when compared to the cast of a more vivid reminiscence like Fellini’s Amarcord. It’s as if the movie is set in a parallel universe without cynics, since the only person that dislikes the crowd-pleasers is an insane vagrant. If all movies were so capable of homogeneous acclaim, I doubt they’d be capable of intriguing me as they have. Many of the sequences, like the one in which two theaters are forced to share a film, rotating reels by courier, don’t have any real payoff. Perhaps, the truncated nature of the original American release is to blame. A longer, director’s cut of Cinema Paradiso is slated for domestic release later this year (and currently available on foreign DVD), and will hopefully stifle many of these complaints.




Jeremy Heilman