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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Cinema Paradiso" (1988)

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A filmmaker recalls his childhood, when he fell in love with the movies at his village's theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater's projectionist.

In many ways, this film anticipates "The Long Day Closes" and "Hugo". While "Cinema Paradiso" is probably not the first movie about enjoying movies, it is easily the most successful and critically acclaimed. Terence Davies was likely influenced, and there is no doubt that Martin Scorsese was.

"Cinema Paradiso" was shot in director Tornatore's hometown of Bagheria, Sicily, as well as Cefalů on the Tyrrhenian Sea. This makes the film somewhat more interesting for Sicilians in Wisconsin, as they largely trace their roots to Bagheria. Myself, though not Sicilian, have extensively studied the Italians of Milwaukee and find this connection fascinating. (The Sicilian roots are explored a bit more on the Blu-ray in "A Dream of Sicily", which looks into the life of director Giuseppe Tornatore.)

The themes of the film are many, and go beyond the simple love of film or seeing film as a background of our lives (which is a feeling many cinephiles share). We have the role of religion, with some excessive priestly censorship of the films within the film, even cutting out a "chaste kiss".

There is the theme of the Mafia, which is unfortunately an ever-present aspect of the Sicilian way of life. We see that mob boss "Don Vincenzo" has complete control of employment (and an unusual rapport with Edward G. Robinson). Although he is not a major character, he plays an interesting role for being opposed by the village priest, and the way the populace accepts him is striking.

"Cinema Paradiso" has countless nods to Fellini, quite possibly the biggest influence on Tornatore (and many other Italians). Interestingly, Fellini was going for "realism" (or neo-realism) in his work, and much of this film covers similar themes but plays them for laughs (at least in the first half). This is homage in its purest form -- taking a source and inverting, subverting it.

The film was rightly honored by many, not least of which was at the Academy Awards. What is most surprising is that the Criterion Collection did not scoop this title up years ago. But luckily for us, Arrow Academy is giving Criterion a run for their money and offers an impressive set for "Paradiso" fans. Both the theatrical cut and director's cut are in the set, providing an additional 50 minutes of footage, including a crucial romantic scene that is entirely excised in the shorter version.

The Arrow set also has "A Dream of Sicily", a 52-minute reflection on Tornatore's career, interviews with the key actors, a breakdown of the kissing montage, and more. Yale professor Millicent Marcus, who has authored many books on Italian cinema including "Italian Film in the Shadow of Auschwitz", provides a very insightful commentary (in English!), not only elucidating the finer points of the film, but pointing out connections to other, lesser-known works of Italian cinema.

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