(Listen while reading this entry)
Before today’s European Films class, there had only been one movie that moved me to weep profusely, and that was The Mission. The story, the music and the powerful message of that movie immensely affected my life after the first time I saw it that I thought then “This is, by far, the best movie I have ever seen.” However, the film industry is one industry hard to predict because earlier today, I think, I saw one fruit of the art of cinema that brought me to paradise: Giussepe Tornatore’s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso or internationally known as Cinema Paradiso.
A flashback movie that was three-hours long, Cinema Paradiso follows the life of Salvatore di Vita (Jacques Perrin), a son of war widow whose early love for the movies would be the singular force that would influence his life. Intelligent and capricious, the flashback begins with six-year old Salvatore (Salvatore Casco), more known by the town of Giancaldo as “Toto”, a sleepy sacristan but an eager movie house monger. He, however, was not satisfied with watching movies from the theater seat: he wanted to be up in the booth with the town projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who, in turn, initially found Toto as nothing more but a pesky kid.
Eventually though, the old Afredo sees the intelligence, skill and sheer determination of Toto for the movies. In fact, Alfredo realizes that Toto was unlike the other folks of Giancaldo: he wasn’t only in the cinema to sit and absorb everything but was there to find out how a film is operated. For Toto, the films were only flickering images but a source of life: sadness, joy, humor and wisdom. Soon, little Toto, the sleepy acolyte of the parish priest, would become Alfredo’s quick and witty apprentice. This is where the movie dwells, showing viewers of Cinema Paradiso how the two’s relationship evolves from being merely those of a master and apprentice, father and son, friend and companions, and lastly, fan and film maker. Even during his teens, Alfredo would feature prominently in the life of dashing Toto (Marco Leonardi), who is now the town’s projectionist after Alfredo’s unfortunate fate in the old Cinema Paradiso.
During his stint in the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the new cinema hall rebuilt by lottery winnder Don Ciccio, Toto meets his first, and apparently only, love of his life, the blonde, blue-eyed daughter of the banker, Elena. Courting her was tedious but eventually, Toto wins Elena’s heart. The two become romantic sweethearts, only to be severed, seemingly forever, by Elena’s parents’ decision to enroll her to the University of Pisa and marry her off to a son of her father’s business partner. Toto is heartbroken and with the cajoling and strong advice of Alfredo, leaves Giancaldo.
Thirty years later, the flashback ends with Toto, now a famed movie maker based in Rome, deciding to return to Giancaldo for Alfredo’s funeral.
This was the part when I began to weep.
As Alfredo’s entourage plies the modern and changed town of Giancaldo filled with cars, cramped and with advertisements and vandalisms everywhere, the hearse pauses at a condemned building — the Cinema Paradiso. Here, Toto sees and reunites with the people of his youth like the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’s owner, Don Ciccio. I cried because, well, with my love for cultural heritage preservation, the movie was able to show how countless structures that used to play a vital part in the life and spirit of community have been lost to time and neglect. A day after the funeral of Alfredo, Toto visits the abandoned and deteriorated Cinema Paradiso, memories flooding in him as well as in the viewers, tears welling in his and their eyes. Change, indeed, is painful. The movie shows this all the more as Toto finds married Elena, once more, in Giancaldo.
The two former lovers meet up and make love. But not after a confrontation that was waiting to be resolved after thirty years. Toto finds out the reason why Elena failed to meet him on their set date: Alfredo advises her to leave him. Rocked to his core, his former advocate was apparently the seeming cause of why he never found his “true” love after 30 years. However, Elena also tells Toto that she partially disobeyed Alfredo when she left her friend’s address among the film invoices in the projection room. Toto remembers that with his own two hands, he covered those invoices, thus failing to find Elena’s note for him.
A day after their romantic night by the sea, Toto returns to the projection room and sees indeed Elena’s note. He gives her a call but she cuts ties with him painfully in a bitter episode of moving on and forgetting. Toto rebukes Elena and leaves Giancaldo with two things left by Alfredo for him – the stool upon which he used to stand when operating the projector and a film reel.
Upon arriving in Rome, he watches the film reel in a studio. On the verge of sobbing, and tears falling from his eyes, Toto watches all the censored and cut out kissing scenes montage. And with that, “Cinema Paradiso” ends with a sting, with viewers left also with watery eyes.
A movie that artistically intertwines sentimentality and humor, romance and history, as well as memory and pragmatism. The biggest change that occurred in the film was when Alfredo, fully convinced of Toto’s talent and knack for movie making, with all the might he could muster, verbally compels Toto to leave for Rome, to rule the world but more importantly, to love whatever he would end up doing. And indeed, throughout his life, Toto’s love was the cinema: neither Elena nor his own mother and sister benefited from his person.
Tastefully written, Cinema Paradiso’s musical score should be equally credited for bringing viewers the moving and powerful message of the film. Ennio Morricone, the same man behind The Mission’s superb music, does justice to the story and raises the film to a higher pedestal because of his mild but moving music.
In Tornatore’s film, the cinema became the paradise of simple folk from what used to be a small rural town. Upon his return as a movie big shot, Toto proves that it is not only by one’s own acts that one achieves success but ultimately, it is with the help of many factors. In his case, it was the movies, the Cinema Paradiso, Elena and Alfredo.
Upon returning, he, and the rest of the viewers, feel the heart-wrenching experience of “returning home” wherever that place might be — it may be one’s birth place or maybe, for this author, one’s own phases in life.
This excellent movie that celebrates the power of the art form known as cinema is a movie this generation all the more needs. With very few choices of quality films that have a personal touch on viewers’ hearts, this generation is threatened with the fact of being “disenchanted” and at the same time “dumbfounded” by Hollywood’s special effects and shallow story lines with recycled musical scores.
It’s about time my peers, and even our own parents, watch this poignant movie hecho ayer.