A colorful, sentimental trip through the happy days when the Italo film biz wasn’t in a perennial ‘crisis’, this Amarcord about a marvelous Sicilian hardtop and a boy who loves the movies boasts eye-catching technical work and a solid cast. Young helmer Giuseppe Tornatore (The Professor) is an able storyteller who knows the value of cute kids and easy emotion. Beneath the schmaltz lie buried a lot of good ideas.
Clocking in at an overlong 2 1/2 hours (cut from three), film divides into three parts, corresponding to the three ages of cineaste-hero Salvatore. As an adorable 10-year-old moppet (first-timer Salvatore Cascio), the boy sneaks into the parochial Paradise Cinema to watch a priest (Leopoldo Trieste) snip out all the kissing scenes. He worms his way into the heart of crusty peasant projectionist Alfredo (a well-balanced Philippe Noiret) who speaks in film dialog.
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With Alfredo the cinema is magic – like the night he regales patrons unable to get into a Toto comedy with a free show beamed on a wall in the piazza. Mid-show, the old nitrate film catches fire and destroys the theatre.
Second part shows Salvatore as a teenager in love with a blond banker’s daughter (Agnese Nano). Last, and least satisfying, is Salvatore as white-haired Jacques Perrin, now a famous (what else?) film director. He returns to Sicily for Alfredo’s funeral and finds his long lost love, now played by Brigitte Fossey.
Topnotch lensing by Blasco Giurato and sets by Andrea Crisanti (the cinema itself is a small masterpiece) create a strong atmosphere. Ennio Morricone’s score reinforces the sugary sentiment that defaces the film.
[Pic’s international success was in a 123-min. version in which the third part of the story was heavily cut. A 167-min. version, Cinema Paradiso: The Special ed ition was released in the UK in 1993.]
1988: Best Foreign Language Film