Thursday, January 26, 2017

CINEMA PARADISO (1988) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Arrow Video

Region: A/B
Duration: 124 Minutes / 174 Minutes
Rating: R
Audio: Italian LPCM 1.0, 2.0, Italian DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Cast: Philippe Noiret, Enzo Cannavale, Antonella Attili

Synopsis: Giuseppe Tornatore’s loving homage to the cinema tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director, returning home for the funeral of Alfredo, his old friend who was the projectionist at the local cinema throughout his childhood. Soon memories of his first love affair with the beautiful Elena and all the high and lows that shaped his life come flooding back, as Salvatore reconnects with the community he left 30 years earlier.

Giuseppe Tornatore's 1988 Italian film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso was originally released in an 155 min theatrical cut but was trimmed to a more manageable and better received 124 minute version for it's international release under the title Cinema Paradiso. It was this cut that I caught a 35mm screening of in the early 90's while living in Ithaca, NY at the local arthouse cinema, a place called Cinemapolis. Not yet then in my twenties, and coming off a decade of 80's horror devotion, looking back this is the screening that gave birth to my love of arthouse and foreign cinema. My new found interest in arthouse and foreign films was fed all that year by the aforementioned Cinemapolis and another fine indie theater, Fall Creek Pictures, who had some super comfy chairs. These purveyors of arthouse brought to me the cinema of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's apocalyptic cannibal-comedy Delicatessen (1991), Jaco Van Dormael's Toto Le Heros (1991), Gabriele Salvatores' Mediterraneo and Krzysztof Kieslokowski's The Double Life of Veronique(1991) plus an American indie film, that remarkably still has no stateside release 20 years later, Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991). 

The film opens in Rome, Italy sometime in the 1980's as film director Salvatore De Vita (Jacques Perrin, Brotherhood of the Wolf) returns home and is informed by hi wife that his mother has telephoned from sicily with news that someone named Alfredo has passed away. Salvatore, who has not returned to the sicilian village of his birth for 30 years, is crushed by the news, immediately he flashes back to his childhood during WWII, recalling the formative years of his life and a friendship with an crusty, though kind-hearted, theatre projectionist named Alfredo (Philippe Noiret, Fellini's Three Brotherswho imparted to him a deep love of cinema.

We are then transported to 1940's Sicily via flashbacks as only the magic of cinema can. We meet Salvatore at the age of six, he's a precocious little scamp who keeps his mother on her toes, he definitely a handful of mischievous energy. Consumed by an interest in film he spends most of his time at the Cinema Paradiso, a small theatre in the heart of the town square. It is here that he befriends the projectionist Alfredo who begrudgingly lets the boy hang out in the projection booth with him. Through a series of montages we are introduced to the townsfolk who gather nightly to watch the moving images and they are a colorful cast of small town characters. Father Adelfio (Salvatore Cascio, The white Sheik) dutifully approves each film before public viewing at weekly screenings in which he censors scenes of intimacy that he deems immoral, he does so by sounding a bell which cues Alfredo to mark the scenes and cut them from the reel, the decades of naughty nitrate litter the projection booth, and figure prominently into the end of the film. During viewings of the film the townsfolk can be heard to register complaints, one man objecting, "I've been going to the movies for twenty years and I never saw a kiss!", it's fun stuff. The entire village is enraptured by the moving images, it's an idealized cinephile vision of small town life and while the film could be critiqued for being overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative I thinks it's rather quite wonderful, with the lyrical Ennio Morricone score hitting all the right notes.

At first Alfredo's disposition towards the Salvatore is one of annoyance but the old man recognizes his love of cinema and takes him under his wing teaching him to operate the projector, edit and splice film and change reels. The two form a father-son relationship, it's a wonderful portrayal. In a tragic turn of events the highly flammable nitrate film catches fire and a blast of flame from the projector cruelly takes Alfredo's sight. The theatre is a complete loss but it is given a new lease on life when a man named Ciccio, who recently won the lottery, resurrects the theatre as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. In an admittedly unlikely turn of events Ciccio hires the adolescent Salvatore as the theatre's new projectionist, but that's the magic of movies folks. A few years later with the introduction of non-combustible film stock the elder Alfredo ponders "progress, always comes late."

Alfredo and Toto's friendship continues through the years and as Salvatore matures into a young man, now played by Marco Leonardi (Like Water For Chocolate), he finds himself coming to Alfredo for advice when he loses his heart to a young beauty by the name of Elena (Agnese Nano), the daughter of a wealthy banker who frowns upon a peasant boy courting his daughter of privilege. At the height of their romance Salvatore is required to serve his compulsory military service and the two lose touch when Elena's family settles elsewhere. Returning to the Sicily following his service Alfredo urges the young man to leave the village, to return to Rome where he can pursue his cinematic dreams. Salvatore is hesitant to do so but Alfredo make him swear to never return, to not look back and not give in to sentimentality. Alfredo tells Salvatore "Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt". It's a promise he keeps but upon returning to the village 30 years later Salvatore is overcome with regret at the decision.

During the funeral procession for Alfredo Salvatore sees the aged but familiar faces from his youth, he's overcome with feelings of nostalgia and regret. Alfredo's widow tells Salvatore how proud her late husband was of him, that following his career as a film director was a source of great pride for the elderly man. She gives him a box, inside it a film reel. Upon returning to Rome Salvatore screens the reel to discover that Alfredo has spliced together a compendium of what amounts to the greatest romance scenes of cinema cut, all the stolen kisses censored from films over the years at the behest of Father Adelfio. He watches as tears of bittersweet joy stream from his face, basking in the glory of cinema and overwhelmed by emotion.

As a teen I found this film incredibly moving, it was actually overwhelming. Never had I seen a film that carried with it so much love for the cinema or such passion for filmmaking. Revisiting it again and again years later it still carries that same weight and then some, it gets better with each watch. Now, with a few more years under my belt, a family of my own and my love for cinema having only grown, the film resonates deeper and stronger than ever. Much like director Giuseppe Tornatore's nostalgia for the cinema of his youth I find it difficult not to similarly gush over Cinema Paradiso - it is simply a thing of beauty.

In the longer theatrical version of the film the relationship between the younger Salvatore and Elena is fleshed out a bit more. When he returns to Sicily thirty years later he encounters a young girl who bares an uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Through her he is reunited with Elena and attempts to rekindle their romance. The reunion scenes add some extra depth and poignancy to the proceedings plus there's a revelation involving Alfredo's involvement in their break-up which adds yet another level of bitter sweetness to the film's finale. In years past I have always been more affectionate for the theatrical version, but this time around I had a strong warming-up to the longer director's cut, both are wonderful, and with this new 2-disc set you can have both. 

Audio/Video: I am very pleased to see Arrow's 25th Anniversary Edition of Cinema Paradiso (1988) get a Region A release, finally! Here we have both the 124-minute theatrical version and the loner 174 minute version of the film, presented on two separate Blu-ray discs, both restored from original negative materials, both framed in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The results of the 2K restoration are wonderful,coming straight from the original 25mm negative this version looks significantly richer than the Lionsgate Blu-ray from a few years back, warmer with more depth, and also benefitting from a new color correction. 

Audio on the theatrical version include both Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono and Italian DTS-HD MA surround 5.1 with Optional English subtitles. The Director's cut features Italian LPCM Mono 1.0 with Italian DTS-HD MA surround 5.1 with Optional English subtitles. Ennio Morricone's transportative score still comes through quite brilliantly, even on the mono option. The Italian DTS-HD 51. track subtly utilizes the surrounds from time to time, immersing viewers in Morricone's gorgeous score. Optional English subtitles are included for both the theatrical and director's versions. 

Onto the extras, this 2-disc set is loaded, beginning with disc one we have the 124-mion theatrical cut, plus the commentary from director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus, which is a nice listen. The commentary is in English. Marcus is very professorial in her approach, though her love for it is never in question. Tornatore's commentary is spliced into the commentary, as they were not in the same room. 

There's a nearly hour long documentary A Dream of Sicily wherein the director speaks about his life and career, including clips of his early films, plus interviews with director Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducato. The 27-min doc A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise is a making of retrospective, featuring interviews with the director plus actors Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio who played  Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio. There's also a 7-min interview with Tornatore as he discusses the "stolen kisses" film clips in the movie, the inspiration for it, approaching Fellini to play the projectionist in the scene, and the clip also identifies each of the clips. Disc one is finished up with a trailer for the 25th anniversary re-release of the film. The interviews are in Italian with English subtitles.  

Onto disc two we have the 175-min director's cut of the film, newly restored from the original 35mm negative with option of Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono and Italian DTS-HD MA surround 5.1 with Optional English subtitles. The only extra on the disc is the Original Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer. 

Special Features:
- Newly 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
- Uncompressed original stereo 2.0 Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options
- Optional English subtitles
- Audio commentary with director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus
- A Dream of Sicily – A documentary profile of Giuseppe Tornatore featuring interviews with director and extracts from his early home movies as well as interviews with director Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducato, set to music by the legendary Ennio Morricone (55 min) HD 
- A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise – A documentary on the genesis of Cinema Paradiso, the characters of Toto and Alfredo, featuring interviews with the actors who play them, Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio as well as Tornatore (27 min) 
- The Kissing Sequence – Giuseppe Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes with full clips identifying each scene (7 min) 
- Original Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- 25th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer (2 min) HD 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)is a timeless love letter to a bygone era of cinema and to the glory of independent movie houses that's swollen to perfection with just the right amount of nostalgia and sentimentality. A powerful film about the love of ciea that nurtured my own passion for cinema at a particularly influential period in my life. I give this the highest recommendation possible, and the new Arrow Video 2-disc set is hands down the definitive version of the movie with both the versions, a gorgeous 2K restoration, and a wealth of extras. 5/5