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Cinema Paradiso Reviews

Successful movie director Salvatore returns to his rural Sicilian village after 30 years to attend the funeral of a dear friend and former mentor who advised him, all those years ago, to forsake his humble origins and journey to Rome to make a life for himself. CINEMA PARADISO wallows in nostalgia for a mythic moviegoing past that it serves up in self-infatuated gobs. No, they don't make movies like they used to, and this Oscar-winning Italian-French co-production spends the better part of three hours proving it. In extended flashback, Salvatore (played by Jacques Perrin as an adult) reviews his postwar childhood and his relationship with the friend — Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the projectionist at the town's only theater, the Cinema Paradiso. The whole town has been affected by the war and, for many, the Paradiso has become a refuge from the impoverishment and indignity that surrounds them. A prankish altar boy, Salvatore or Toto for short (played as a boy by Salvatore Cascio) follows the local priest to a private screening at the Paradiso. The priest, also the town censor, registers his disapproval of certain moments in the films that flicker past (it's the kissing scenes that invariably arouse his ire) and Alfredo snips out the offending footage. Toto badgers the projectionist into giving him a strip of discarded celluloid. Naturally, a bond soon grows between them. That Paradiso is some revival house. Great classics from the likes of Lang, Renoir and Visconti abound and there are enough Anna Magnani classics for a month of screenings at the Museum of Modern Art, but for the folks in this backwater hamlet such stellar fare is as common as going to church each week. Indeed going to the movies is a reverential act, as anyone gazing on those rows of rapt faces can tell. They laugh, they cry, they bliss out on cue. Director Tornatore (IL CAMORRISTA) pushes every sentimental button — some Felliniesque, some probably personal — but none that hasn't been pushed a dozen times before. The film's censor priest might well approve of the carefully tailored sentimentality. Still, Tornatore's film, shot on location in the director's hometown of Bagheria, Sicily, won a number of film festival accolades, including the Grand Jury prize at Cannes in 1989. When CINEMA PARADISO was first released in the US, it was shorn of nearly an hour of footage, eliminating an extensive subplot involving Salvatore's reunion with Elena (Brigitte Fossey), the now middle-aged dream girl of his teenaged years. When it was rereleased in 2002, 48 minutes was restored and with it Miss Fossey's role, which was entirely absent from the shorter version.