Cinema Paradiso (Arrow Video, R)

This is one of the best Arrow releases I’ve gotten to see in some time, not only in terms of quality and quantity, but also relevance.

Despite a rocky start, Cinema Paradiso became one of the most recognized and internationally successful foreign films of its time: 1988, to be exact. This came after most festivals and producers were dismissing the Italian industry, regarding it as having dropped in quality since its heyday and, overall, mostly kaput. As can be seen in one of the documentaries featured on this release, director Giuseppe Tornatore had to prove his film worthy many times in one long and arduous process involving rejection and indifference. That isn’t to say it flew under people’s radars or didn’t have the strength to carry itself; the film operates on a massive scale in terms of scope and style. While a little overly sentimental, it is filled with moving and emotional sequences, intimate moments, and technical mastery.

Most of the film is a flashback to the childhood and adolescence of now-famous director Salvatore di Vita, who is informed of the death of his early mentor and surrogate father, Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret). Traveling to the place where he spent his youth, Salvatore ruminates on the birth and development of this pivotal relationship. The fatherless child Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio), going by Toto, is a constant thorn in the side of Alfredo, the curmudgeonly cinema projectionist. As his interest and persistence grows, Alfredo caves in and takes Toto on as an apprentice, and soon becomes his friend and surrogate father. In his adolescence, Salvatore (Marco Leonardi), now grown and handsome, if not somewhat angst ridden and stoic, is partners with Alfredo, and seeks him out as a confident for the many problems he comes to face as a teen—mostly girl problems. Throughout this journey, we not only get to examine their close relationship and personalities, but the character of their entire city and its residents. Of course, the film is also an epic love letter to cinema.

By today’s standards, it may be a pretty cut-and-dry coming-of-age story, but in terms of the meaning and emotion built into it, the film can’t easily be matched. Alongside making the most of his genre’s capability to move, Tornatore is generous and honest with the depths of the characters. Since the film is partially autobiographical, he’s able to far with their development. Period films of childhood and adolescence often feature sequences of their protagonist going to a movie. Those moments are these characters’ whole universe, and there are unforgettable images of awe for the cinema that make Cinema Paradiso virtually definitive in the super-subgenre of Film Love-Letter Movies.

Today, with theaters very gradually shrinking and local cinemas frequently shutting down, the film seems more relevant than ever; a quality release like this is something that gives me a little bit of temporary hope. Arrow did a great job, expanding points of the film by including a version of the director’s cut and also having contextualizing and very interesting featurettes. A commentary is led by Millicent Marcus, an expert on Italian cinema, with Tornatore giving occasional commentary, as well; also included are two documentaries, one about Tornatore called A Dream of Sicily and the other about the making of the film called A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise. There is a famous scene in the movie I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll just say it involves footage of people kissing. The origin of this scene is explained in another featurette. The obligatory trailer extra is actually worth a watch. It’s interesting to see how they make a modern precis of a slightly older but great film.

This is one of the best Arrow releases I’ve gotten to see in some time, not only in terms of quality and quantity, but also relevance. | Nic Champion

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