Cinema Paradiso Review

The Film

Dame Judi Dench recently railed against her soubriquet of "national treasure". She felt that being labelled as a universally loved figure confined her and denied her character and abilities. Basically though, I guess she resented the idea that simply being likable was all that she set out to be as a performer. Cinema Paradiso may not be a national treasure but it is certainly an international one, and it, unlike Dame Dench, is most desirous of being loved. It definitely wants to be loved, and it wants to be loved in the way that it adores its subject - cinema itself.
To be more precise, Cinema Paradiso is about the death of the old cinema of provincial theatres, independent operators and the communal experience of visiting the flicks. TV and home video, of course, killed off these old cinemas as people chose to nip to the local shop to watch something at home rather than listen to other people's sweet wrappers, queue in line and pay far too much for food and drink. Italy, in particular, experienced this terribly with the film factory of the late sixties and seventies diminishing to the small national cinema they have today.

The film "remembers" a golden era of Tati, Visconti and a communal spirit created through the occasion of the local cinema. The white collar pillars of the community take the better seats in the gallery, the kids sit at the front and the local professional women serve their customers in the shadows. Still, the main job of the viewer here is to watch the watchers, to enjoy how they look up to the screen and to piggyback on their joy and tears.
We do this through two characters who represent old and new. Alfredo is the bluff projectionist with the heart of gold and Toto is the poor altar boy who loves cinema and tests his older mentor. Toto will learn from Alfredo, succeed him and then leave him, only to return and see the final death of the place that brought them together. Toto's rites of passage see him through school to young love to the army. We rejoin him as a lonely unfulfilled adult with some fame, who rediscovers his past and his love for the flickering image.

Wait a minute! Growing up in a seaside town? Memories? A mad tramp who thinks he owns the local plaza? Some crudity, some religion and some politics? It can't be ignored the debt that Cinema Paradiso owes to Fellini's Amarcord, and indeed the director even asked the great man to cameo as a projectionist. Like Amarcord did with its maker, Tornatore's film mines his own past and the result is more sanguine and conventional. Moreover it wants to be loved more and is much more conventional than it's spiritual forebear.
This can be forgiven, though. Cinema Paradiso is a film of nostalgia and that emotion is a somewhat unreliable one, but with the wonderful Noiret as Alfredo and a great charismatic child actor in Salvatore Cascio, this is very well acted and convincing as a story. Ennio Morricone's score sets the mood of reverie and mounts the dramatic moments beautifully, and the events which led to the abridging of the film allow a little mystery and improve the tempo from what the director may have originally intended.

Cinema Paradiso reminds us of the time when the community viewed the cinema as integral to its daily life. It is indeed ironic that it does this through our TVs in our living rooms behind the front doors of our nuclear homes, yet even if this reminder is both ironic and rose tinted it is very entertaining and most winning. It takes a hard heart to not be moved by this film, and twenty years later that's still true.

Cinema Paradiso is still a treasure.

Technical Specs

The transfer is not a complete success, I'm afraid. I checked the disc against my miramax edition, which seems to be the same print, and the same sequences in that film come from the same poorer quality materials here, and I suspect that contrast and colour boosting has been applied to improve some of the image as well. Sometimes whites in fabrics are bleach bright and skintones are often pinkish, there are also a few examples of edges which seem too pronounced. It's the daytime sequences where I notice these issues more as the contrast seems to be about right and shadow detail is ok if not exceptional. Generally, this is not a huge improvement on the R1 disc in terms of detail or colouring. I prefer the tones of the R1 disc but you may not, so here's some comparisons:

Worn footage from R1 disc

Same still from Arrow blu-ray

Alfredo in the booth from R1 disc

Aldredo from the Arrow blu-ray

Similarly, the audio options also show wear and tear with both the LPCM stereo and Master Audio tracks carrying some hum, and I had to rejig my audio synching on the dubbing as well. Of the two options, I much preferred the stereo option but I do wonder why no original mono was offered as both audio mixes seem a bit echoey and the master audio comes off a little metallic to my ear. If you must have surround options I suppose it'll do, the English subs are very good but are permanent.

Special features

A half hour documentary encoded in 1080P is included with the director talking about the auto-biographical elements of his film as well as the film's eventual success courtesy of Cannes. Noiret and a grown up Casco, still looking like a chipmonk, also contribute. The director's persistence in insisting that his longer cut was better is a tad vainglorious but al least consistent.

From the same interview, Tornatore discusses the Kissing sequence and his idea of asking Fellini to cameo as the projectionist. Fellini's polite rejection of the film-maker's request is typically polite and to the point, and given the obvious inspiration of the maestro, it's no surprise that Tornatore fills the great man's shoes in the film itself.

The photo gallery includes 50 images, some from shooting, some candid snaps and some stills. Morricone's score is included in it's entirety using stills from the film as accompaniement. The final extra is a standard definition trailer for the director's cut complete with awful sugary voiceover.


I hope a better more detailed version will eventually come out on high definition. This is not a huge improvement on the R1 transfer which with decent upscaling can come very close in quality to this treatment.

Note: Cinema Paradiso is available exclusively through HMV until January when it will become available through other retailers.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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