Friday, December 25, 2020

CINEMA PARADISO (1988) (Arrow Academy 4K UHD Review)


Label: Arrow Academy
Region: Region-FREE
Duration: 124 Minutes (UHD), 174 Minutes (HD)
Rating: R
Audio: Italian LPCM 2.0 Stereo, Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles
Video: DolbyVision HDR10 2160p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Antonella Attili, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Leo Gullotta, Marco Leonardi, Pupella Maggio

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 minute theatrical cut but it 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, the Cinemapolis. Not yet then in my twenties at the time and coming off a decade of VHS-fuled 80's horror devotion those frequent trips to the Cinemopolis birthed my love of arthouse and foreign cinema. My new found interest in arthouse and foreign films was fed all that year by both the aforementioned Cinemapolis and another fine indie house Fall Creek Pictures, the latter of which had some super comfy chairs and bean bags on the floor so you could actually sit in front of the screen on a bean bag, which was cool. These purveyors of arthouse introduced 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) and Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991), the last of which 30 years later still has no North American home video release.

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 his 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 his friendship with an crusty, though kind-hearted, theatre projectionist named Alfredo (Philippe Noiret, Fellini's Three Brothers) who 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, Miracle at St. Anna
), 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. 

Audio/Video: The 124-minute theatrical cut of Cinema Paradiso (1988) arrives on region-free 4K Ultra HD from Arrow Academy in 2160p UHD framed in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Arrow released a Blu-ray about four years ago and it looked great but the UHD improves even on that with a lush layer of film grain that exports detail and texture with eye-pleasing fidelity. Add to that we have the Dolby Vision HDR10 color-grading that deepens the blacks and improves contrast, the primaries are also infused with a new depth of color that shines during scenes of blue hued movie projector light and fire. 

No Dolby Atmos on this UHD, but fear not, the Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono and Italian DTS-HD MA surround 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The Italian dialogue is crisp and clean, with the deeply lyrical Ennio Morricone score coming through brilliantly, even on the mono option, which I actually preferred. 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 cut.

Only the theatrical cut has been given the 4K UHD treatment, the longer running 174-minute director's cut can be found on the accompanying Blu-ray. We do not get any new extras, but Arrow do carry-over all the extras from the previous release on the 4K UHD. 
Onto the extras, we have the audio commentary from director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus, which is presented in English. We also get the 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-minute A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise retrospective documentary with interviews  from the director, actors Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio who played Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio. There's also a 7-minute interview with Tornatore as he discusses the "stolen kisses" film clips seen in the movie, along with clip identifiers, and the inspiration for it, and of how he approached Fellini to play the projectionist. Extras are buttoned-up with a trailer for the 25th anniversary re-release of the film as well as the original director’s cut Theatrical TrailerWe were only sent a "check disc" for review with outwork or packaging so no comment on packaging or the booklet. 

Special Features:
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the 124-minute theatrical version
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the 174- minute Director’s Cut
- Uncompressed original Italian PCM 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options with 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 (52 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 that is swollen to perfection with just the right amount of nostalgia and sentimentality. It's a powerful film about the love of cinema that nurtured my own passion for cinema at a particularly influential period in my life, which is enough for a high recommend, but then you have the outstanding picture and audio, making this an essential release for any lover of film.