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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Cinema Paradiso"


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Cinema Paradiso
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Everything that has become Italian film-making clichés can be found in Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso." Originally released in 1989, and nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film, the movie has been re-released today as a directory's cut, with a whopping 57 minutes added, bringing it to only moments shy of three hours. But the effort was worth it, as the movie virtually reinvents itself, while remaining true to its original rendition. The story's themes of puritanical censorship, male coming of age in post-WWII Italy, and a heart-felt tribute to the role of cinema in every day life, have all been expanded to more acutely emphasize the depths and intertwining relationships among them.

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Cinema Paradiso
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The first two-thirds of the film takes place as a flashback memory of a current-day filmmaker named Salvatore, who learns that his good friend, and father-figure, Alfredo, has died. Alfredo was the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso, the only movie theater in the small Sicilian town where Salvatore grew up. Salvatore's father had died in the war, and his mother and home were frequently vacant as well, so the young boy spent most of his time at the Cinema Paradiso, watching Hollywood movies nightly. Here, he and the rest of the town would escape from life through Hollywood movies, only the young Salvatore was also learning about life through the projector's lens. He and the good-intentioned, but simpleton, Alfredo become best of friends, and together, they would watch films from the projectionist's booth, while the town paisanos come to laugh, cry, socialize and hiss whenever the local priest censored the kissing scenes.

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Cinema Paradiso
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When Salvatore comes of age, he falls in love for the first time with a young woman named Elena with the romantic simplicity and fantastical perception learned from the movies he's seen. Alfredo, concerned for Salvatore's emotional well-being, advises the young man to leave the small town and go make something of himself in the real world, rather than throw it all away for a love that will never come to pass. When a rendez-vous between Salvatore and Elena is missed, the devastated Salvatore reluctantly follows the old man's advice and heads to Rome. Thirty years later, when he learns of Alfredo's death, he finally returns to the town he left - this time as a successful, but unhappy filmmaker -and learns of what actually transpired on that fateful day of his departure and missed rendez-vous.

While the original version of the film had the same basic storyline, the emphasis was more on the role of "film" as a social element in people's lives; the ending scene - which hasn't changed in the current release - is more directly related to the storyline, giving it a simpler and more heartfelt message. The new version emphasizes more of the relationship between Alfredo and Salvatore, and Salvatore's love-that-almost-was with Elena, drawing more attention to the theme of "good-intentions with negative consequences," which wasn't in the original version. Both are extremely good films, and different enough for warrant the true film enthusiasm to see both once again. However, the latter film is much deeper and more profound at the expense of being less lighthearted. Both films celebrate the role of cinema - and life itself - and are inherently optimistic in their outlook, if only for the fact that we, the audience, can learn to appreciate the importance of love without the devastation the characters in the film had to suffer.

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