The Queue: ‘CINEMA PARADISO’ (1988)


Jared McMillan // Film Critic

There are only so many movies one can see. Thankfully, the advent of streaming video has remedied the problem of missing out. Each week I will review a movie in my Netflix queue that I have never seen before. It will be with fresh eyes, guaranteed.

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Cast: Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Marco Leonardi, Enzo CannavaleBrigitte Fossey and Antonella Attili

I don’t know about you, but I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to my realization of how much I loved movies. My parents will tell you they knew sooner since the first book I ever picked up was a TV Guide, but I digress. I was even later to the party when it came to foreign cinema; in fact, the first foreign movie I remember seeing was Ang Lee’s masterpiece CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (even then I knew not to see a foreign movie dubbed). It did start me cultivating a list though. I’ve seen a lot of foreign movies since then, but one that escaped me was the Oscar-winner CINEMA PARADISO until now.

The film is about a man’s love affair with movies since he was a kid. The film actually opens with Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) in his current age, receiving news from his estranged mother that an old friend named Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) had died. The plot transitions to the beginning of their friendship around WWII, when Salvatore was a child (Salvatore Cascio). It was then that he started frequenting the titular local theater, eventually bugging Alfredo, the projectionist, into letting him in on the tricks of the trade. Alfredo is annoyed at first by his new apprentice, even firing him at one point (young Salvatore is, let’s just say, precocious), but he sees how passionate the boy is about the movies. Their love of movies binds them together through time and tragedy (the Paradiso burns down at one point), before we see Salvatore as a teenager (Marco Leonardi), as he transitions into a man. However, Salvatore’s love of the cinema is soon overshadowed by the admiration of a classmate, Elena (Agnese Nano). This leads to more time away from the Paradiso, and then time away from home to the military. His tour ends, and so does his relationship with Alfredo, who tells him to stay away from his home and enjoy the world.


Cinema paradiso. Photo courtesy of Miramax.

As Salvatore is growing up, so does cinema. The audience sees in his childhood that movies were censored, with Alfredo splicing out anything deemed appropriate by the town priest. During the show, kids would be in the front row being entertained, while the adults sat as a reflection of the time, regarding classes (one balcony goer frequently spits on those below him), hard times (those in the lower level are morose in their movie-going experience), and just time itself (we see one couple’s relationship in shots of each phase in their relationship). However, as we see how time has changed our protagonist, we then see how cinema has changed. We are shown two scenes that reflect the injection of sex and violence into movies. The first is set up with a bare-naked woman on screen, the camera moving past the crowd to the back of the room to end on a prostitute emerging to welcome her next client; cut to a gangster movie being shown on screen, intercutting with a shot of a man getting killed in the audience. Has cinema spilled into the lives of the audience, affecting their morals? Or has the times of the world become a reflection for what cinema can produce?

I must say that I loved everything about this movie, and will recommend it to everyone. Not only was there a nod to the sex and violence that started to bleed into the cinemascape, but the nod to censorship in the form of a priest. It created a nice juxtaposition to realize the sheltering in one’s childhood vs. the wild nature of being a teenager. Also, I noticed some really great symbolism to enhance the storytelling. For instance, when present-day Salvatore hears of Alfredo’s death, we had seen him in nothing but long shots to show a distant character until he got the news. Then, as the camera slowly zooms in, lightning strikes to indicate a change in time, as well as a relation to the blueish tint from the projection light. Whenever lightning struck in the flashback, it would show Salvatore in bed, deep in thought.
Giuseppe Tornatore, the director of CINEMA PARADISO, took the time to make sure that Salvatore and Alfredo’s love of movies translated into movie magic. There is great appreciation for the golden days of cinema, from showing the intricacies of editing reels in the booth to just Alfredo quoting favorite lines. During Alfredo’s funeral, Salvatore is having a conversation with his old boss about the Paradiso getting demolished. They talked about how no one goes to the old movie theater anymore, so the business died. I hope it doesn’t…I do love going to the movies.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.