Cinema Paradiso, one of the best films made in the contemporary past, is a fictionalized account of how director Guiseppe Tornatore fell in love with the medium of cinema. This isn’t a frenzied confession of love that’s bursting with passion, but a meandering development, almost poetic in nature. It’s still passionate beyond comprehension, but there’s a serenity to it that I absolutely adore.
The film is more than a love letter to film. It also deals with many other kinds of love. There’s the fatherly love or friendship that Toto and Alfredo share, Toto’s romance with Elena and the complicated love-hate relationship between Toto and his mom. Plus, there’s also his love for the town where he discovered his love for cinema, and his subsequent goodbye to it that’s lasted for 30 years. It’s a heartwarming, yet heartbreaking, tale of love and severance.
Toto’s relationship with Alfredo is formative and contributes immensely to his understanding of and love for cinema. It’s from Alfredo that he steals the negatives that kept his passion alive. And it’s Alfredo who introduces him to the technical aspects of the craft. Alfredo is like a true father to Toto. Their bond is dynamic, but fulfilling. He chases the kid away, then call him back to tell him stories. Toto steals from him and annoys him but is also the one who saves his life. The love they share is truly enriching, and eventually Alfredo gives Toto his most important lesson in instructing him not to return.
The town itself has a certain artistic charisma. It inspires an intrigue and interest in living there. There’s a liveliness to the place, as if under the dirt and the footsteps and the sweat stains, there is a genuinely magical core. And at the centre of it all is the Cinema Paradiso, inspiring awe in anyone who sees it. The romanticism of the town is possibly why the film’s ending stings so much. This is where Toto grows up and becomes who he is. He doesn’t see his hometown for 30 years, and when he returns, the place where his journey began is demolished.
The love affair between Toto and Elena is a classic love story for the ages. Alfredo has a major role to play in it, explaining to Toto what love is, while also warning him about heartbreak. He distracts the priest so Toto can sneak out and confess his love to Elena. The love between Toto and Elena simmers over long distance for a few months, before finally becoming a wildfire. Alas, as powerful as it is, it’s doomed to be just a summer romance. They never meet again.
Every frame of Cinema Paradiso drips with magic and affection. The visuals are wonderfully smoky, which sets the tone for the narrative to function as the ultimate proclamation of love
Unlike the other kinds of love in the film, Toto’s love for his mother isn’t simple at all. She may care for him, but she’s physically abusive. Her heart might be in the right place, but she never truly understands her son till she loses him. This lack of understanding causes several mishaps, and Toto bears the brunt of all. It’s heartening to watch the way in which mother and son grow closer, however. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and Toto, with tears in his eyes, professes his love for his mother, ashamed of not having done before.
The film also showcases a love for cinema itself. The movies’ awe-inspiring ability to instigate something dormant in its audience is explored. Anyone is free to interpret a film in their own way, and love it for their own reasons, but the one thing that’s undeniable is that cinema has this power to move people in ways they didn’t know were possible. Any good film breaks you down, changes you from the inside and builds you back up. The experience is the reward. Every frame of Cinema Paradiso drips with magic and affection. The visuals are wonderfully smoky, which sets the tone for the narrative to function as the ultimate proclamation of love. It speaks of love for one’s home, for one’s mother, for one’s guide, for one’s lover, and of course, most importantly, for one’s muse. The muse of life, in this case, is cinema.
If you really love cinema, with all your being, then this film will speak to you. Cinema Paradiso reassures us that our inexplicable love and passion for cinema, which moves us so much we can’t fathom it sometimes, isn’t overboard at all. It seems to shout from the balcony of the movie hall, in the loudest voice possible, ‘I love you cinema, I love you for existing and for helping me exist.’
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.