"Cinema Paradiso" Throwback Review
Emotions can make or break a film. Have too little, and your film has no weight and no importance. Have too much and your film will be unbelievable and schmaltzy. Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 feature Cinema Paradiso definitely falls into the latter category. It’s overflowing with forced emotions that take you out more than they invest you in. Nostalgia may have blinded some people from seeing this Oscar-winning film from what it really is: a manipulative and cliched tale that is never original or worthwhile of your time.
World War II is still in full swing in the Italian countryside. The only kind of entertainment in town in the local cinema, Cinema Paradiso. Every night people arrive in droves to escape from the tragedies of reality. Out of all the attendees, the most passionate one is Toto. He’s a young boy who has a passion for film and will do anything to learn more about it. Current projectionist Alfredo reluctantly takes him under his wing and begins to teach him the skills necessary to be a projectionist. From this point, Toto and Alfredo begin a lifelong friendship, one that we witness as the film tracks Toto’s life from childhood to adult.
Cinema Paradiso is a very, very conventional film that never does anything out of the ordinary. Maybe that’s why some people love it. It harkens back to the golden age of cinema, one filled with melodrama and two-bit characters. But for me, the nostalgia feels almost politically manipulative. It shows historical clips from old films that are supposed to make you feel good, which in turns makes you feel good about the film as a whole. It’s the same technique used by any movie that includes a ton of pop culture references to try and win your emotional attachment. It feels forced and cheap, almost like the director doesn’t trust his crew.
The film also overplayed its hand when it comes to delivering on the emotions. Nothing you feel is natural. Everything is presented with so much artificial drama and weight that it soon becomes tiresome to watch. It feels like a ploy by the director to get you to care about the film. It also feels so political and awards baity towards the Oscar voters. “Look at how important cinema is!” is the main message that is repeated numerous times, each time getting more and more irritating.
Ennio Morricone is one of the greatest composers of all time, and he proves it here with a great theme. It has a classical and uplifting beat that perfectly captures the tone of the film. Unfortunately, Tornatore gives Morricone the ultimate disrespect by using so many times that it too becomes annoying to hear.
One positive that I can say is that the actors were quite good, especially the pair of Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio as Alfredo and young Toto, respectively. They have great chemistry and are able to carry the early parts of the film with ease.
Marco Leonardi does a pretty good job as adolescent Toto. He mostly just coasts off his good looks, but he does bring some complexity to his character. He does struggle with the emotional bits however and comes off a bit too hammy.
This is one of the clearest cut cases of what a film did right and what it did wrong. The performances and music are all there, but the directing is atrocious and sinks everything. This would be a must-see film if a more serious director had taken the helm. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20 and what we are left with is a film that tries way too hard to make you care about what it wants to say.