Rental Pick: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

I saw Cinema Paradiso a few months ago during our monthly gals’ movie nite, but haven’t got a chance to write a review on it. Since I just watched Nine recently which share a ‘cinema italiano’ theme, why not do the review back to back (the Nine review will be up tomorrow). But the the theme and filming location are where the similarities end, because these are completely different movies, as far as the east is from the west in terms of style and quality.

CINEMA PARADISO (Director’s Cut)

I first heard about this movie when I heard the gorgeous soundtrack by the renowned Ennio Morricone years ago. The instrumental version is obviously magnificent, but when I heard Monica Mancini (Henry Mancini’s daughter) sang the English version of the song, I fell in love with that, too. It turns out the movie is really is as charming as the music.

It’s a touching tale of unlikely friendship between a theater’s projectionist Alfredo and a young boy Toto (Salvatore). Directed by Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore, Cinema Paradiso won all kinds of awards when in came out in 1988, including Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s easy to see why. Everything about it is so enchanting and the story is rich with themes of friendship, love, loyalty and of course, a celebration of the world of cinema. The movie is divided into three major sections, marked by the three different actors playing Salvatore. All of the Italian actors did very well to capture the adventurous yet melancholy spirit of the main character smoothly from one to the next.


Section one focuses primarily on the friendship between Alfredo and Toto. It begins with a middle-aged man living in a luxurious condo in Rome, who just learned about the death of a loved one. We’re not told who this ‘Alfredo’ person, but we know from the man’s reaction that he means a lot to him. Then the movie switches to flashback mode, we’re transported to a small town in Southern Italy during post WWII era. We watched the mischievous Toto growing up with a natural fondness for the world of film, constantly sneaking into the movie theater and hassling Alfredo. The strict Catholic customs means censorship is controlled by the town’s priest, whose task is to make sure the movies are stripped off any romantic/sexual scenes. Toto are persistent to get his hands on those very splices of films, and he eventually does, which somehow leads to a fire accident that gets him banned from going to the theater. Despite his initial reluctance, the two form a father-son bond and friendship and Toto becomes the only other person besides Alfredo who knows how to run the projector in the whole town. The ending of this part is one of the most memorable part of the movie, where Alfredo treats the whole town to a free movie right in the piazza, as he projects the film onto a wall of a house from the window of the theater. But tragedy strikes, followed by a momentous rescue that changes both of their lives forever.

Years passed and in the second section Toto has grown into a handsome young man, ready to fall in love. The subject of his affection is Elena, whom he falls for at first sight. Elena doesn’t immediately return his advances, but the hopeless romantic Toto waits, literally, outside her bedroom window every night until she responds (a la Freddy waiting for Eliza on the street where she lives in My Fair Lady). The romance is sweet, but it doesn’t quite eclipse the friendship part of the story, as we slowly learn that Alfredo plays an integral part in how Toto ends up being a successful filmmaker that we see in the beginning of the movie.

The last section pretty much picks up where the beginning scenes left off, where the older Salvatore first heard of Alfredo’s death in Rome. He returns to his hometown after years of being away, and makes good of his promise to never come back until his dream to be a filmmaker is fulfilled. The ending of Salvatore alone in a private theater watching a very special montage given by his beloved friend is a real tearjerker. It provides a significant and sentimental finale to Alfredo-Toto’s relationship.

Now, I definitely will try to see the original 154-minute version that has a different ending involving his long lost love Elena. The way it’s described in Wikipedia, I think would bring closure to the budding romance that ended so abruptly, but turns out it was driven by love after all. It’s hard to imagine that its original release in its native country was actually a flop, it wasn’t until it was shortened to 123 minutes for international release that it achieved a great deal of success.

I absolutely LOVE this movie, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to see it again. The fact that it’s set in Italian with subtitles adds to its charm as well, and the gorgeous cinematography and setting makes it feel real and authentic. It’s really a must for anyone who loves films or even those who appreciate a classic drama where the beautiful story is the STAR of the movie. Bravo!

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Have you seen this film? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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18 thoughts on “Rental Pick: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

  1. Great review Ruth. Cinema Paradiso is a gloriously authentic tale of friendship amidst the wonder of cinema. One of my favourites.

  2. Well-written review Ruth 🙂 Cinema Paradiso is a gem of a movie, the type of film that rarely gets made these days that captures an entire era and culture on film.

  3. Darren

    I remember studying this for my English exam in the Leaving Cert – the teacher showed us the Director’s Cut when the one on the course was the Theatrical Cut. I still, through some miracle, got an A in it.

    1. Ha.. ha… well good for you for still getting an A, Darren. Not sure if there are major differences between the two other than the ending part. Well, just another reason to re-watch this beautiful movie!

    1. Ooooh that’s got to be so cool to watch it outside like that, in Dublin no less! For someone who’s never been to Ireland, that fact alone is enviable, Olive 🙂

  4. I worked at a theater that played this and I was too young and stupid to appreciate it then. Seeing it later I feel so ashamed of myself. It is a beautiful film. I always loved it when they project the film on the walls outside for the townsfolk to enjoy. Don’t get me started on Ennio Morricone either……aaaaah….love him!

    1. I know what you mean, Markus. I was that way with Sense & Sensibility and after second viewing yrs later it became my fave film of all time. Glad you love Mr. Morricone’s work, too!

    1. Yeah I think there are two versions of this film. I think I might’ve seen the longer version. Either way, do see this film Sir, it’s fabulous!

  5. Pingback: World Cinema Series – Wrap up and Winner Announcement « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  6. Pingback: Music Break: Cinema Paradiso (1988) |

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