The first time I saw Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, it was in the Seabury Hall chapel (which is now their library). This was in 1990, a one-night-only event that my mother (who worked there at the time) got me into. It felt odd at first, as we were ushered into this cavernous space (the kind of room seemingly ideal for dance rehearsal), onto bleacher seats. A screen was set up, bags of popcorn were handed out, and I sat with my mother and one of my grade school buddies. I was 13 at the time, unaware that this film – the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film – was going to be one of the great moviegoing experiences of my life. There’s a magic to it, a knowledge of how movies can transport us to certain moments in our lives, as well as feelings that have been dormant, tucked away within us. Movies can be escapist fantasies or bittersweet and harsh. Cinema Paradiso is all of those things.
We meet Salvatore (played by Jacques Perrin), a successful filmmaker who is haunted by the past he left behind; Salvatore hasn’t returned to the Italian village of his birth since he left as a teenager. As he makes his way back, we watch the childhood that shaped Salvatore’s life, in which he went by the name of Toto (played by a vibrant Salvatore Cascio). At the age of 11, little Toto is constantly getting in trouble, while his mother struggles to discipline him. Toto forms an unexpected friendship with Alfredo (a fantastic Phillipe Noiret), a projectionist at the local movie house. The two find escape in their father-son bond and their occupation of sharing the escapism of movies with their town folk.
Guided by Tornatore’s skillful direction, some charming lead performances, and a magnificent, emotionally rich score by Ennio Morricone, Cinema Paradiso will leave you enraptured and giddy. There’s so much joy and honesty here, moments of heartbreak and hilarity that come colliding together.
Tornatore’s film is a special one in Italian cinema: There is a sentimental quality here that you’d never find in, say, the erotic/political works of Bernardo Bertolucci or the landmark works of Roberto Rossellini or Pier Pasolini. Yet, as in the impactful, early examples of Italian neorealism (namely, The Bicycle Thief), the bond between a boy and his adult guardian is portrayed in a manner that is never maudlin.
Cinephiles are aware that there is the theatrical version and a much-longer director’s cut (both are available on Amazon Prime). I strongly recommend the former and only suggest the latter if you liked it the first time and have too many unanswered questions about the third act. The original theatrical version (which was the first I encountered) is perfect, giving each subplot and character the appropriate amount of time to develop. The extended version is overlong and overstuffed, giving too much emphasis to a plot line that was better left ambiguous.
Fans of Cinema Paradiso often say it’s one of the best movies about movies themselves. I’ll take it a step further: This is among the greatest movies ever made. If you’ve never seen it, make it a priority. (On Amazon Prime)
Rated R/123 Min.
For Suspense Fans:
Most only know Steve Guttenberg from his starring roles in ‘80s movies like Three Men and a Baby, Cocoon, and the Police Academy series, where he played affable, charming leading men. He once tried to break-out and do a full-blown thriller, The Bedroom Window (1987). The film never caught on, but it’s a great little sleeper, obviously inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Guttenberg is solid playing Terry, a fake witness to a murder (he’s filling in for his mistress, played by Isabelle Huppert, who won’t admit to witnessing the crime). Another witness, played by a pre-“Downton Abbey” Elizabeth McGovern, is onto Terry and aware of the real danger still out there. Directed by Curtis Hanson, back when he was doing top-notch popcorn thrillers like this and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild (he later hit the big leagues with L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile), it’s been out of print for a while and worth rediscovering. (On Amazon Prime and Kanopy)
For Keiki and the Young at Heart:
The Rescuers Down Under (1990) is one of those forgotten Disney semi-classics that everyone remembers but few have seen or given a second thought since the ‘90s. It was released in between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, becoming a footnote during that rich age of the Disney Animation Renaissance. While a sequel to the bland 1977 The Rescuers, it’s a standalone movie, in which two mice who are top Rescue Aid Society agents are sent to Australia to save an eagle and a young girl in distress. Anchored by great vocal turns (Bob Newhart and Ava Gabor are wonderful as the protagonists, John Candy provides boisterous comic relief, and George C. Scott makes a fantastic villain) and gorgeous animation, this blends CGI and hand-drawn animation. The action sequences are startlingly good, making for a charming, often thrilling, and, at 77 minutes, brisk entertainment for the whole family. (On Disney+)
Images courtesy IMDB