Cinema Paradiso

Since charming American audiences and winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso has come to epitomize a brand of glossy, reassuringly middlebrow fluff that has generally won domestic distribution over more challenging fare. A Precious Moments figurine of a film, Cinema Paradiso serves as Tornatore's love letter to the movies, as well as to a colorful small-town Sicily so ridiculously idealized it's a wonder anybody ever leaves. An endless succession of big, sweeping moments meant to stir the heart and inspire the soul, Cinema Paradiso stars Salvatore Cascio as a wide-eyed moppet who falls asleep while performing altar-boy duties, but comes alive when worshipping at the church of the cinema. Under the careful tutelage of crusty but lovable projectionist Philippe Noiret, Cascio learns the projectionist's trade, but as he grows older, his beatific gaze switches from the flickering images on the big screen to pretty classmate Agnese Nano. The course of true love seldom runs smoothly, however, and upon being drafted into the military, the film's protagonist (played as a teen by Marco Leonardi) is separated from Nano, and consequently loses much of his romantic idealism. The new version of Cinema Paradiso restores 51 minutes originally cut from the American version, most of which involves a meeting between adult incarnations of the film's star-crossed lovers. The excised material adds a bittersweet coda to the pair's ill-fated romance, but even at its most restrained and melancholy, Paradiso still wallows in shameless sentimentality. Driven relentlessly forward by Ennio Morricone's famous score, Paradiso runs on a cocktail of nostalgia, sentimentality, and cinephilia. Tornatore's affection for film permeates every frame, particularly the countless shots of adoring peasants gazing rapturously at the screen, but like its famous final scene, Paradiso is nothing but ecstatic climaxes. Tornatore seems intent on charming viewers into submission, but after a while all the wonder, awe, and movie magic become deadening.

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