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Cinema Paradiso: A Return to Innocence

Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Jacques Perrin, Salvatore Cascio

Stop. Stop right there. For a moment, stop discussing the fate of our troubled world, your papers, your ambitious careers and journey with me to a time we rarely allude to, a time we vaguely remember in the daily rush of our lives. A time of innocence, purity, and simplicity-a patchwork of memories: childhood. This is the pure essence of “Cinema Paradiso”.

The film starts by showing a middle-aged man, Salvatore, surrounded by society’s symbols of success: bright city lights, a Mercedes Benz, a luxurious mansion, and a beautiful woman languishing in the background with a sultry voice. Then the scene is brought to a halt by the news of a funeral in Giancaldo. Alfredo, an old man who had been a father figure for Salvatore in his youth, had recently passed on. We are then hurtled to the beginning, to a simpler time, to a simpler place when Salvatore, a growing boy, was simply known as “Toto”. We are gently nudged through time, seeing the wonders of life through a growing boy’s eyes, celebrating Toto’s first cigarette, first love, and first chance at operating the village cinema all while watching the friendship between Alfredo and Toto blossom and strengthen.

The cinema itself was used as a central tool in the film to symbolize a unity between the young and the old, the rich and the poor, tears and laughter, happiness and sadness, and Toto and Alfredo. The director, Giuseppe Tornatore, used universal experiences as a subtle technique to engage the audience intimately with Toto’s story. How many of you used to be a victim of your siblings’ practical jokes? How many of you gave cheeky responses to your parents’ scolding questions? Random scenes exhibiting the simpler yet harsh existence of 1940s Giancaldo such as rubble, rocks, angry adults and wizened women fetching water at a communal well were intertwined with the use of gentle humour, sunshine, mischievous children, poignant music, kindness and warmth to relay the message of nostalgia to the audience.

Little Toto, played by Salvatore Cascio, is undoubtedly the most charismatic character in the film, captivating us with his innocence, mischief and that idiosyncratic candidness that only children possess.

Fans of Giuseppe Tornatore’s work will probably enjoy “MalŠna”, again set in the rural Mediterranean and anyone who would like to indulge in more childhood nostalgia will probably enjoy Marcel Pagnol’s “Le Chƒteau de ma mŠre” which is set in France. So, the next time you feel you have had a productive day because you have managed to reduce your caffeine and tobacco consumption, pester some stranger at an investment bank for a job and tackle that stubborn problem set by midnight, think back to a simpler time when a productive day just meant playing in the sand and pestering your parents for more ice cream.

“Cinema Paradiso” sighs a message that we acknowledge from time to time: ’tis a necessary, but sad, thing to grow up.

October 28, 2002
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