Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the foreign drama CINEMA PARADISO (1998) by writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore. To best describe the story, I will turn to a modified version of the IMDB plot summary:

“A filmmaker recalls his childhood of falling in love with the pictures at the cinema and forming a deep friendship with the projectionist.” 

There is a bit of a catch to this review that I should make clear right from the get go: this is a very well-known foreign feature. Heck, there was a time when this film was actually studied in film schools because it is a well-made love letter to cinema. As such, this is not my first viewing and, I suspect, my cinephile readers have seen this gem before.

For the uninitiated, this piece follows a young boy from childhood, to adolescence, to middle age and his love of the movies. The script does a fantastic job of exploring how little things can shape the lives of people through the years as we see nuggets placed early on pay off later. Though, if we are being honest, the real highlight of the picture is the relationship between the projectionist, Alfredo, and the young boy, Salvatore. People have written essays on the shared moments these two have on screen so I will not bore the reader with more, but suffice it to say this is the highlight and backbone of the feature.

It helps that the two share an easy chemistry no matter which actor happens to be playing Salvatore. As most people obsessed with movies, theater, or live productions in general know: all the best writing in the world counts for nothing if the performances ring false. Within this film it often seems like the kids playing Salvatore are not even acting while Alfredo is portrayed with such a natural grace that it is easy to believe they pulled him straight out of a projection room to plot him into this picture.

The technical features are equally well executed from both the cinematography to the score. While there are some gorgeous camera shots on display, I am going to focus on the music as I find it to be more interesting. The composer, Ennio Morricone, should be familiar to fans of spaghetti westerns or the works of Quentin Tarantino, though I suspect we have all heard his arrangements in more features than we ever knew. Here we are treated to a lush score that embodies the nostalgic and romantic nature of this piece to absolute perfection.

If I was forced to say something bad about this film it would be this; it feels overly long for the final payoff. In some ways this is an unfair assessment because it is as long as it is so as to capture a boy’s life through the decades, but in other ways it is fair as the end is left so open to interpretation that it does not feel like an adequate conclusion. Seeing this movie fifteen years after my original viewing has left me wanting more of an ending for these characters that I have come to love.

What sparked this new viewing for me was that Arrow Video has gone back and remastered the film for an all new Blu-ray. The new transfer is mostly fantastic and brings some crispness back to the feature that was missing the last time I sat down to watch the movie. The extra resolution makes some of the better camera work in the picture really shine so it should be considered the new gold standard for new viewers and those who already love the piece.

All in all, this is a foreign classic that receives new life thanks to a strong new transfer. Thanks to the higher resolution that is an easy recommendation for me to make to cinephiles who are just dipping their toes into the foreign market. Fans of coming of age movies like My Life as a Dog (1985) or A Bronx Tale (1993) will find a lot to like in this flick.

Nightmarish Detour

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