Cinema Paradiso Movie Review
I've never seen a movie rereleased in a director's cut with as many alterations as "Cinema Paradiso -- The New Version."
An international box-office smash and a winner of an Oscar, a Cannes Special Jury Prize and literally dozens of other awards, you'd think nobody would want to mess with this sentimental favorite about the life of love and loss lived by movie-obsessed little boy who practically grew up in the projection booth of a Sicilian village cinema.
But writer-director Guiseppe Tornatore has 52 minutes of restored footage and an entirely different, mood-altering last act he'd like to show you.
Told through the flashbacks of the melancholy, 40-ish film director the boy became in adulthood, "Paradiso" still opens with Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) receiving news that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) -- the gruff, playfully grumpy projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso, a man who was like a father to him -- has passed away. Travelling home for the first time in 30 years, Salvatore recalls his childhood as an impish little boy, nicknamed Toto, with such a passion for movies that he would spend every spare moment in Alfredo's projection booth.
The two shared a playfully antagonistic mentorship and button-cute young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) would often sneak home with pockets full of spliced frames of film, which he would stare at through the light of a candle at night, replaying the movies in his head.
Only a few new scenes have been added in these early acts, which take place in the late 1940s and are still highlighted by one of the film's many iconic signature moments: Toto watching wide-eyed from the back of the theater as the local priest previews a new movie, angrily ringing a bell at every screen kiss to indicate where Alfredo must make cuts before the film will be allowed to run for the public. One of "Paradiso's" great delights is watching Toto giggle wildly at the blatantly missing kisses when he later goes to the movies with the rest of the town.
Changes start creeping in after Toto becomes a teenager (played by Brando-ishly handsome Marco Leonardi) who is forever making 8mm movies and who becomes the Cinema Paradiso's projectionist after a fire that burned the place down and blinded his dear friend Alfredo.
Rebuilt by a lottery-winning resident into a state-of-the-art, censorship-free theater in 1954, the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso becomes the site of many memorable screen kisses, including Salvatore's first with a beautiful girl named Elena (Agnese Nano). She falls for him after a long and determined courtship that included the boy filming her from afar and showing his endurance by standing outside her window every night for months. But their love seems doomed when Salvatore is drafted into the Army and Elena is whisked away by her disapproving parents, never to be seen again.
In the 1989 film, Salvatore returns from the Army after only a few weeks, exempted because his father died in World War II, only to discover Elena has left no forwarding address. In Tornatore's new, longer version, the poor kid's exemption gets caught up in red tape, he serves a year before coming home and Elena has left him a note he never finds. The end result is the same however -- Elena is gone, leaving a hole in Salvatore's heart that will effect the rest of his life, and inspiring Alfredo to push him into leaving the island and make his way in the world.
About the time Salvatore comes home from the army, the new version begins to drag a bit. But soon the Tornatore's major revisions begin to kick in. In both 1989 and 2002, the modern story of older Salvatore returning to the island for Alfredo's funeral reasserts itself about this point. His little village has become a big town and his memories haunt him like ghosts. But in the new edit's additional footage the director develops a whole new subplot in which Salvatore begins chasing those ghosts after spotting a young woman who looks exactly like Elena.
This is where the two films really diverge, with the original lingering more in the magical memories of Salvatore's childhood and the director's cut delving more into the melancholy of lost love that has been with him -- and even inspired him -- ever since he was a young man.
These two wildly different third acts each have their own merits -- especially when viewed as two "what-if" scenarios. I watched both versions just a few days apart (the director's cut first), and it felt like watching "Run Lola Run," a German film that repeats the same events with three different endings.
Both versions of "Cinema Paradiso" eventually wind up in the same place. But the mood at the end -- and even the meaning of the film to an extent -- is very different. Which version you prefer may be simply a matter of taste and psychological disposition. The 1989 release -- which in retrospect leaves some lose ends dangling here and there -- is more for those who like their movie magic mellifluous and largely unsullied. The 2002 film will appeal more to folks who prefer to take their sentimentality seasoned with a little bit of the blues.