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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Cinema Paradiso’ a nostalgic and poignant piece

Published: October 25, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Cinema Paradiso,” an Italian film, traces the lifelong journey of a filmmaker who looks back upon his life in sorrow, unable to reconcile lost loves and memories of his childhood with his successful career in modern Italy. Although I have always been more of a fan of horror movies, psychological thrillers and comedies, and actually have never seen famous romantic movies such as “The Notebook” or “Titanic,” for some reason I am admittedly obsessed with the film “Cinema Paradiso.”

Originally assigned the movie “Cinema Paradiso” for a homework assignment, I quickly fell in love with it, as did most of my classmates. Set amid beautiful, crumbling landscapes, the sense of nostalgia and the melancholic themes of a lost love are complemented by the musicality of the Italian language. “Cinema Paradiso” explores the nostalgic memories of a filmmaker, Salvatore, who first fell in love with the art of cinema as child growing up in a beautiful Italian town, under the guidance of an elderly man, Alfredo, who managed the local theater. In one heart-wrenching scene, the small, boyish figure of Salvatore struggles to pull Alfredo from the burning flames of the theater, which caught on fire from a single strip of nitrate film. Left permanently blind, Alfredo can no longer continue his duties at the cinema, but forms a strong and everlasting bond with the young boy. Salvatore grows to experience the pains of a lost love, falling for the young Elena, but is tortured by her departure. It is only at Alfredo’s insistence that Salvatore abandons his childhood home to become a successful filmmaker, only to be reminded of his past when he receives notice of Alfredo’s unfortunate death years later.

Traversing the span of Salvatore’s life, beautiful in its tragic portrayal of loss, the film provides comedic relief while tracing the changing social and political views dominant in Italy. Townspeople boo as films showing in the theater are censored, skipping over intimate kissing scenes between actors and actresses that now would be given a PG rating at most. It seems like two completely different time periods are represented in the film, which is part of the nostalgia that makes the movie so enjoyable. The young Salvatore and the adult Salvatore are almost irreconcilable. Returning to the town after learning of Alfred’s death, Salvatore is forced to confront all the memories of his childhood he had chosen to block off psychologically. Encountering Elena, they hook up in a car, old flames refusing to die. The scene is powerful in the sense that both have aged tremendously, wrinkles lining the corners of their mouths, hair beginning to grey. It’s as if the hook-up is only a reminder of what they lost, and each departs their separate ways to their respective partners and lives.

Although some critics argue the movie is too sappy and emotional, I would argue it is powerful, and its comedic moments alleviate the mood from becoming too melodramatic. Unlike an easily predictable movie where everything magically falls into place for the key characters, Salvatore remains tortured by his past. He achieves success in his career, but must abandon his childhood home and lose the love of his life to do so. It is only once he receives a phone call about Alfredo’s death that his past sneaks up to encapture him once more.