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Cinema Paradiso

by Glenn Erickson Mar 14, 2017

Giuseppe Tornatore’s ode to the Italian love of movies was a major hit here in 1990, despite being severely cut by Miramax. In 2002 the director reworked his long version into an almost three-hour sentimental epic that enlarges the film’s scope and deepens its sentiments.

Cinema Paradiso
Region B Blu-ray
Arrow Academy
1988 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / Special Edition / 174, 155, 124 min. /
Nuovo cinema Paradiso / Street Date March 21, 2017 / 39.95

Starring: Philippe Noiret, Antonella Attili, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, Agnese Nano, Brigitte Fossey, Pupella Maggio, Leopoldo Trieste
Cinematography: Blasco Giurato
Production Designer: Andrea Crisanti
Film Editor: Mario Morra
Original Music: Ennio and Andrea Morricone
Produced by Mino Barbera, Franco Cristaldi, Giovanna Romagnoli
Written and Directed by
Giuseppe Tornatore


Your average foreign import movie, it seems, makes a brief splash around Oscar time and then disappears as if down a rabbit hole. A few years back I saw a fantastic Argentine movie called The Secret in Their Eyes. Naturally, it disappeared quickly, to be replaced by an American remake. Other movies that knocked us out in long-ago film festivals simply can’t be found on video here, like the hilarious Teresa la ladra with Monica Vitti, or another Argentine movie, a furious political action epic called La Patagonia rebelde. There are occasional happy surprises. One sensational festival discovery is just out from Arrow Academy, Walerian Borowczyk’s Story of Sin. I haven’t seen it since two jaw-dropping screenings in the late 1970s.

That’s not the case with Cinema Paradiso, a film that was embraced by the U.S. in no uncertain terms. It’s got an adorable kid, a moving multi-generational story, and, in a long version that only showed up here later, an intense love story. And that’s not including a sentimental music score by Ennio Morricone. Cinema Paradiso shows clips from dozens of Italian movies even I can’t recognize. That only makes this ‘national epic’ of movies seem that more exotic.


The foreign movie splash of 1990, Cinema Paradiso was a solid hit and award winner for Giuseppe Tornatore. Films that invoke the love of movies and the dreams they inspire often turn into mush, but Tornatore’s tale of the life of a ragtag tot who projects in a provincial Sicilian theater, and the romance of his life, manages to mix cinema, with the cinema in the cinema, and come out on top.

Slashed by a half hour for American audiences, Cinema Paradiso is one of many Miramax films routinely cut down upon import, a practice that few seem to notice in pictures such as Like Water for Chocolate (123 to 105 min.), or Amelie (129 to 122 min.). The good news is that Arrow’s Blu of Cinema Paradiso contains both cuts — the American release and an extra-long one that Tornatore assembled in 2002.

Although his mother (Antonella Attili) objects, tiny Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) hangs out at the Cinema Paradiso, where projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) lets him play with the dangerous nitrate film clips, and watch while Father Aldelfio (Leopoldo Trieste) censors each new film before it screens, so as to be free of kisses, bare legs, and nudity. Unforeseen events cause Salvatore to take Alfredo’s place as projectionist. The changes in Italian cinema cruise by as he grows into manhood, frustrated by some things in his life, and enchanted by the love of his life, Elena (Agnese Nano).


Practically a multi-generational story on the order of an Edna Ferber epic, Cinema Paradiso uses a flashback format, for a fiftyish Salvatore, played by actor Jacques Perrin of Z, to reminisce about the magic of his youth and his bittersweet romance with Elena.

Director Tornatore uses his slightly stylized techniques to lend a quality of magic realism to some scenes, such as the carved lion projector port that comes alive in one dramatic scene. We see many film clips projected on the Paradiso’s old screen, familiar Italian classics like La Terra Trema and Il Grido, and many (public domain) American titles — It’s a Wonderful Life, Stagecoach. Tornatore doesn’t play games with film history, and the titles help film fans keep the chronology of the movie straight. They also make mild comments on Salvatore’s situation: trapped in Giancaldo for the summer, he shows Ulysses, and we see the scene where the cyclops Polyphemus suffers in blind agony.


Tornatore definitely comes from the ‘glowing memory’ school of continental filmmaking, where the European past is seen in a nostalgic light, and picturesque locales are made to look gorgeous, better than they could possibly have been for real. Salvatore’s little stone town is a stunner, for sure.

Getting things off to a magical start are veteran Philipe Noiret (Georges Franju’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, Coup de torchon, Il Postino) and young Salvatore Cascio, the cutest little boy ever in the movies. The mystery of life is seen through his eyes – the loss of his father in news delayed long after the war’s end, Alfredo’s accident, and the birth of a new Cinema Paradiso.

Salvatore makes his own 16mm movies. He goes directly from recording the goings-on in a slaughterhouse, Franju-style, to using his camera to snatch precious images of the beautiful but unapproachable Elena, whom he worships from afar. Thankfully, there’s nothing Peeping Tom-ish about his intentions. (spoiler) In the long run his patience does no good, and fate separates the pair. The romantic finales that Salvatore worships in the movies, don’t seem to work for him in real life.


In the shorter (124-minute) version we saw in 1990, the middle-aged Salvatore journeys to Giancaldo and turns over the ashes of his earlier life, witnessing the dynamiting of the Paradiso to make way for a parking lot. Then he returns to Rome and screens a special film Alfredo saved for him over the years, providing a clever but organically sound ‘cinematic’ conclusion.

The longer original Italian (155-minute) version presumably retains longer versions of many earlier scenes, and other moments and scenes that would have fleshed out the show. But the 2002 (174-minute) version is a director’s re-cut that reshuffles some scenes and reinstates a major plot line, complete with characters and actors not seen in either version released before.

The added material contains great, emotionally wrenching content that amplifies the original and in a way brings a satisfactory closure to the movie. It’s strange to discover a whole new dimension to a film one already admires. Without divulging what the big deal is, I can say that events both in 1960 and the present are revealed to have been much more complicated. The added material is central to the main romance, and will be an eye-opener. It makes Cinema Paradiso a much deeper and more ironic love story.


A major role in the added footage is played by Brigitte Fossey, who was famous as the little blonde girl in René Clément’s unforgettable 1952 Forbidden Games. Forty years later, she’s still beautiful. She’s an excellent choice for a film dedicated to cinema heritage.

Miramax did the right thing this time, by allowing Giuseppe Tornatore to restore his original cut. It is long, there’s no denying. Not only is the pacing a bit lacking, the final modern section does seem to be starting a new movie, and there’s always resistance to that. At three hours, seeing how its destiny would be on DVD anyway, Tornatore should have worked in an intermission. I saw it in two halves over two nights, a plan that I recommend.

Once again, Ennio Morricone provides a music score worth dying for … in 1990 it was yet another Oscar- worthy score ignored by the Academy.


Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray of Cinema Paradiso is a dazzling presentation of this warmly filmed and even more warmly received show. Miramax’s old DVD from 2003 had almost no extras but this Special Edition is packed. As I said above, both versions of the movie are present in fine remastered scans with a choice of stereo audio tracks. Tornatore’s presence is everywhere on the disc, with commentaries and featurettes from several points of view. Favorite director Francesco Rosi gets to talk in one long featurette-docu, that is as much about Tornatore’s Sicily, as it is the filmmaker. It contains excellent scans of his personal movies.

American viewers may be particularly interested in a featurette in which Tornatore explains and names all the sources for the remarkable kissing scene montage — a collection of censored kissing moments assembled by the soulful projectionist for his viewing pleasure. The sequence delivers the message that kissing is better in Italy than anywhere else on Earth. The only antecedent to this that I can recall is a sequence in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memorias del subdesarollo (Memories of Underdevelopment), which is as hard to see in good quality as any classic Cuban movie. Its jaded Cuban hero is resisting getting with the spirit of the revolution, and goes to visit a movie projectionist friend who screens for a select group of hipsters a reel of shots deleted from movie prints by pre-Castro censors. Instead of warm kissing being removed by a priest, the Cuban film mostly shows fleeting glimpses of nudity.

Viewers that dote on Cinema Paradiso and want to try similar, if slightly less romantic fare from the same director should try his wonderful Everything’s Fine (Stanno tutti bene) (1990) with Marcello Mastroianni, The Legend of 1900 (1998) with Tim Roth, and the better-known Malèna (2000) with Monica Bellucci.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Cinema Paradiso
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent Restored from the original camera negative and presented in two versions the 124 minute Cannes Festival theatrical version and the 174 minute Director’s cut
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Audio commentary with director Tornatore and critic Millicent Marcus; A Dream of Sicily, a 52-minute documentary profile of Tornatore featuring interviews, extracts from his early home movies and interviews with director Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducato; A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise, a 27-minute documentary with interviews with Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio;
The Kissing Sequence (explained above), two trailers. The first pressing only contains an illustrated insert booklet with text by Pasquale Iannone.

Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: March 12, 2017

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.