The B-Movie Isle: Arrow Academy’s Cinema Paradiso
The B-Movie Isle/Adam looks at one of Arrow Academy’s first wave releases in the US. The Academy Award winning classic Cinema Paradiso. The disc comes loaded with content. We sort through this with an in-depth review of the film and the disc themselves. This Arrow Academy disc is already an early front runner for one of the best Catalog Releases of the year. Read on…
NOTE: My review is of the Theatrical Cut of the film. For thoughts on the extended version see the Extras Section.
I will be upfront about this; Cinema Paradiso is a cinematic blind spot for me. I have purposely avoided it over the last thirty years since its theatrical run. From a distance the movie always seemed too maudlin for my tastes. Sentimentality is not something I deal well with. The poster alone was enough to make me vomit; the oh-so cute little boy with the big saucer eyes looking up at the projected image… Yeah, saccharine enough to make your teeth rot.
That is not Cinema Paradiso.
The Academy Award Winning film is steeped in the past and may be nostalgic but it never sentimental to the point of sweetness. The film tells the story of Salvatore Di Vita as he grew up in his small town in Italy. The young Salvatore, dubbed Toto, has a sometimes contentious and always entertaining relationship with Alfredo the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso, the town’s only theater.
Told over decades, the film is as much a love affair with cinema as it is an ode to growing up. We see Toto as a small almost anarchistic child to a youth on the cusp of manhood and the love he has of the cinema and film in general. The cinema looms as large over Toto’s life as the church, his mother and his absent father do. Writer director Giuseppe Tornatore does what many have attempted but few succeed at; a film that is able to show why we become obsessed with cinema. Tornatore understands that without a compelling and truthful story of coming of age, the cinematic references and the film would fall flat.
Cinema Paradiso though a love letter and melancholy about a different time, the film never feels maudlin about the time of youth. Tornatore shows us Toto’s frustrations, triumphs, disappointments, never coloring them with those rose lenses that many directors are prone to do. Even the love young love affair that drives the second act is never cliched. Much of the soul of the film is derived from Toto’s relationship with the older projectionist/father figure Alfredo.
Tornatore never shows us those clichéd moments of Toto becoming a famous director or winning awards though it’s implicitly stated. The final moments do not end the way that one would think. A homecoming for Toto isn’t the attempt to make things end happily in the traditional sense. The film is stronger for it, ending with Toto’s affirmation of his true love; cinema. Those moments as Toto is transported to his youth, Alfredo’s final gift to his surrogate son, is not only blissful but emotionally resonant in a way that could have never happened if the film ended with Toto finding “the love of his life” and “saving the Paradiso”. We are better for this.
The world is better off for having Cinema Paradiso in it.
Arrow Academy has come out guns blazing with Cinema Paradiso. The film was meticulous “restored from the original camera negative”. Having looked at the older DVD release (I had a copy that I never watched) the difference is night and day. The DVD looks like a browner hue to it, almost burnt gold. The new restoration looks cleaner, less digital color timing. The image is razor sharp with good grain structure and nary a hint of DNR. There is a note about the transfer and the image quality during certain scenes. This is actually from the film footage within the film. The film was designed to have these older looking prints play out, hence the reality of the film intact. It’s great to see Arrow discuss the possible complaints head on with a Header Text as the film begins. This is a gorgeous transfer and may end up being one of the best of the year. Bravo to Arrow Academy for the acquisition of a great title.
The listed extras are as such:
- 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 52-minute documentary profile of 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
- A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise– A 27-minute 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
- The Kissing Sequence– Giuseppe Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes with full clips identifying each scene
- Original Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer and 25th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer
The three documentaries included running at a little less than two hours encompass everything you would want to know about these films. A Dream of Sicily was my favorite as it gives you a personal history of Tornatore rather than a making of.
Sampling the Commentary (which is in English) is fascinating as Tornatore discusses not just his film, personal life but Italian Cinema and Cinema in general with Critic Millicent Marcus.
***SPOILERS FOR THE DIRECTOR’S CUT***
The Director’s cut. I understand why the extended version of the film did so poorly upon release in Italy (that one ran 155 minutes). The nearly 3 hour director’s cut, extends out and basically negates everything I loved about the shorter theatrical cut. The final act left me nearly clueless as to how one could not understand the intent of their own film. Toto going back and starting an affair with Elena and then the whole “finding the note” not only takes away from the power of the film it creates an entirely new issue with Alfredo. Before the director’s cut, Alfredo had his harsh methods of keeping Toto on track. In this director’s cut, it feels that Alfredo is just a cruel stupid old man wanting to shape Toto’s life rather than giving him a choice. It does not work for me in a way shape or form. The director’s cut is a curiosity only.
***END SPOILERS FOR THE DIRECTOR’S CUT***
The Bottom Shelf
Cinema Paradiso is a beautiful film about our love affair with the cinema and movies. No matter the film takes place in Italy during the 1940’s, its universal appeal and message will strike a chord with any and all film fans. Arrow Academy hasn’t just done a good job with this release; they’ve released the best job possible edition for this film. This is surely an early contender for one of the best Catalog releases of the year. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!