Movie Project #44: Cinema Paradiso [1988]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Cinema Paradiso [1988]

Cinema Paradiso [1988]
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Genre: Drama
Starring: Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin
Running Time: 124 minutes (international cut)

I was long looking forward to finally seeing Cinema Paradiso — frequently dubbed a film lover’s film. Giuseppe Tornatore’s Italian drama won 19 awards upon its release, including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, and its praise has been unanimous since (even holding a ranking of #76 on IMDB’s Top 250, as of this writing).

Cinema Paradiso tells its story through the eyes of filmmaker Salvatore Di Vita (played as an adult by Jacques Perrin). After returning home late one evening, Salvatore receives a bit of tragic news: his longtime friend, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), has passed away. Distraught, Salvatore lies in bed and reminisces about his history with Alfredo, wherein the film also takes us through their years.

Cinema Paradiso [1988]

As a child, Salvatore had a deep fascination with movies. He was a mischievious little kid, often getting into trouble, but he was able to forge an unlikely friendship with the projectionist of the local theater, Cinema Paradiso. This projectionist, Alfredo, takes the boy under his wings, becoming a fatherly figure of sorts, while also teaching him the ropes of operating the projection booth.

By the time Salvatore reaches his teenage years, he is a hopeless romantic, falling in love with a pretty girl, Elena (Agnese Nano). Undoubtedly influenced by the countless films he has screened over the years, Di Vita stands under her window every evening, patiently waiting for a moment in which she might open the window and let him in. To me, this is a creepy gesture, even if the true motive is meant to be romantic.

Cinema Paradiso [1988]

Not only do we follow Salvatore and Alfredo over the years, but we are also there to witness the lifespan of the actual cinema. It’s rather interesting to watch as we go from the early days of the local priest splicing out scenes of kissing and other “pornography” (as he puts it), to seeing a more liberal and free-spirited theater in its later years. And, of course, all good things must come to an end, culminating with the death of the theater due to a lack of interest (thanks to television and the like).

All in all, it’s a well-told story, and there are copious references to classic films throughout. There are glimpses of Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and countless other legendary figures, and the passion for film from all involved shines throughout. Cinema Paradiso unnecessarily dips into weaker melodrama by the end, but it’s still an engaging endeavor that is especially enjoyable for movie buffs.

8/10

Movie Project #20 and #21: The Bicycle Thief [1948] and 8 1/2 [1963]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Bicycle Thief [1948, De Sica]
The Bicycle Thief [1948, De Sica]
Starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

This classic Italian neorealist film really impressed me. It’s such a simple story, but it is gripping just the same: A man living in poverty takes on a new job that requires a bicycle, but the bike gets stolen on his first day of work. Together with his young son he scours the city, desperately trying to find his bicycle so he can make money to support his family. It’s a bleak tale because it is hard not to get immersed in the world of poverty that was heavily prevalent in Italy at the time. In this regard, I loved how authentic the movie felt, and this is partly attributed to the fact that non-actors were used for many of the roles. The ending, while tragic and undeniably sad, was most appropriate and left me speechless. A fantastic drama that has easily earned its place in cinematic history. 9/10

8 1/2 [1963, Fellini]
8 1/2 [1963, Fellini]
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale

My first Fellini film left me puzzled and confused. I am still a little unsure as to what I saw. At times, it felt like an overly self-indulgent egotrip, yet it was often hard to look away. The film is about a famous movie director who has a case of writer’s block. He has retreated to a spa to help relax and find inspiration for his upcoming sci-fi blockbuster. During this time, the movie weaves in and out of reality, as well as the director’s dreams. Some scenes are quite memorable (the harem dream scene in which all of the women in his life come together is particularly brilliant), yet I felt others fall flat. One element that is consistent is the beautiful imagery — there seemed to be an emphasis on style over substance. The stream of consciousness narrative reminded me a lot of Synecdoche, New York (obviously influenced by 8 1/2), a movie that bored me beyond belief. As a piece of art, there’s no denying 8 1/2 has exceptional style. It just struggled to keep me entertained throughout. 6/10

What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear some counterpoints for 8 1/2.