I have taken my sweet time getting to this film. It’s one of those films I knew I’d need to cover one day and a few months back I got hold of a copy of Arrow Film’s 25th anniversary release. This Blu-ray includes the nearly 3 hour long director’s cut version of Cinema Paradiso which I had never seen before. In fact, the only version I had seen was the standard 2 hour long theatrical cut. So how does the extended edition of one of the most critically praised films of all time stand up? Really quite well I’d say. Click the link below.
Cinema Paradiso tells the story of the life of a film director named Salvatore Di Vita (Jaques Perrin as an adult) who has recently learned that an old friend of his named Alfredo (Phillippe Noiret) has passed away. The film is then presented in flashback account the story of Salvatore as a child (Salvatore Cascio) and then as a teenager (Marco Leonardi) as he learns about cinema, the art of projecting film and various other life lessons from Alfredo. Salvatore learns how to operate the projector. Gets into a number of mischievous scrapes. Saves Alfredo as the cinema burns to the ground. Takes over projectionist duties when it is rebuilt. Finally he finds love. This is a story of a life but it is also one layered with the passion and romanticism of film.
One of the many elements that makes Cinema Paradiso such a classic is that, as a story, it is incredibly richly layered. There’s commentary on post war Italy. There’s family drama. There’s farcical comedy. We see a child grow into a man. We see a community grow and relationships develop around the titular cinema. Salvatore has a life journey full of incident and adventure. All of these plot threads and thematics are running through the film’s narrative and not once does it become convoluted or weighted down. Neither does the plot threaten to break under the stress of so many elements. It handles each one with efficiency and without ever making the film be entirely about those themes. Cinema Paradiso is always focused on telling the story of the most important parts of a man’s life and explaining why he hadn’t been home for 30 years as mentioned at the film’s opening.
As the film itself progresses we see film mature on screen through the restrained 1940s to the more progressive tastes of European cinema in the 50s. Along with this the censorship of anything deemed pornographic by the local priest is removed as Salvatore grows up. This censored “pornography” is mostly any scenes of kissing all cut by Alfredo from the films. These scenes come back in the film’s final scene as Salvatore watches a kissing montage reel created by Alfredo before his death as a gift for Salvatore. This simple montage provides the story with two variations of closure which stands as a testament to the multi-layered nature of the film’s plot.
On the one hand the kissing scene serves us as a narrative cycle mechanic to return us to an earlier point in the film, reminding us of what has happened since. It’s a simple technique often used in films where the writer or director will make reference to a memorable or thematically important moment from the film’s opening. This makes us reflect on all that has gone since then and tricks your brain into remembering the whole journey which, when used well, can trigger a nice emotional response as you relive those moments. Here we’re reliving the moments with Salvatore and his joy at seeing the film can be mirrored in our own. So the two forms of closure come both for Salvatore and for ourselves. Here’s the thing though, if you’ve only seen the theatrical cut you’ve missed one of the most important elements of closure. The extended edition does not miss this and it adds a new bitter-sweet layer to the story that had never been present before.
During Salvatore’s teenage years he falls in love with a young woman named Elena (Agnese Nano). This is full blown romantic Hollywood style love too. The sort that happens in an instance, requires a trial of commitment, is blocked by authority and, as all the great romances seem to allow, includes a slightly worrying amount of creepy stalker activity. But we won’t dwell on that last part. I mean, as long as Edward Cullen exists in cinema there’s always a creepier romantic male lead. At a point towards the end of Salvatore’s early adulthood he is separated from Elena and they never meet again. As an adult he has never found that same love. What the original versions of the film did not include was an entire last act of the film devoted to Salvatore meeting Elena again.
During this sequence we learn why they were separated, they were due to meet but Elena never showed leading Salvatore to believe her family had moved her away. The sequence includes a revelation that Alfredo had spoken to Elena as Salvatore had been out looking for her and that he had told Elena to leave with her family as planned and to never contact Salvatore again. The reasons for this are presented as being that Alfredo truly believed Salvatore would go onto something great and staying in the village would only stop him from achieving his full potential. Elena left a note for Salvatore, which Alfredo would not have seen as he was left blinded by the fire years earlier. This whole extra sequence of events and the eventual brief rekindling of the relationship as adults is what leads to the bitter-sweet twist the Director’s Cut of the film now has. To be honest, I think I prefer this version. It offers closure to a plot element that was left far too wide open before. There is a downside however.
This added final sequence extends the original cut of the film by half an hour, the UK Theatrical version by an hour. This means that, for anyone who has seen the previous versions, you’re now watching a film where you nearly reach the final few minutes only to suddenly have a much more drawn out conclusion. In a formatting sense this does mean that each stage of Salvatore’s life has a solid hour devoted to it, but it also means that fatigue can very well set in. I have no issue with longer films, I did review a 15 hour long documentary once after all, but sometimes you’re expecting an ending and when it doesn’t come you’re suddenly in limbo. That all said, if you’re not familiar with the film already, this extra half an hour will likely feel like an entirely natural progression of plot. I cannot argue that it doesn’t now fit the film’s structure. It certainly provides the film’s plot with a more tonally effective final act.
The film is scored by the great Ennio Morricone and serves as a prime example that he was far more versatile than many realise. For many Morricone’s work is summed up by his spaghetti western work. It’s easy to forget that he also scored films such as The Battle of Algiers, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Quite a range, but even then I’ve not mentioned La Cage Aux Foilles, In The Line of Fire and various other genre films and dramas. His work on Cinema Paradiso is beautiful and extremely traditional to Italian style. His son Andrea also worked on the film’s score too. It reminds me of the kind of score I think of when I think of Pedro Almodovar’s films. Very traditional to the country, very light and a score that carries alongside the film leaving room for the actor’s performances rather than attempting to dominate them. Worth noting hat he did provide the score for Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! There’s something about listening to the music of Cinema Paradiso that has just reminded me of how brilliant a composer Morricone is.
In the end, the Director’s Cut of Cinema Paradiso is just as flawless and beautiful as the original. I may have felt the length but this could be mostly down to my familiarity with the 2 hour cut of the film. It’s still very well shot. Excellently staged. Complex in it’s thematics and narrative but simple in it’s presentation. It worries me a little that a film this mature was made by Giuseppe Tornatore when he was just 32, the same age I am now. Cinema Paradiso feels like the sort of film you’d expect from an old master as he reaches his peak. Though he’s made some fine films since, such as Malena, I don’t think I’m being harsh when I suggest he hasn’t quite reached this level since. Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece. Certainly required viewing.