Through much persuasion, the tiny Toto finally convinces Alfredo to train him as a projectionist and the two develop a close relationship. Toto even saves Alfredo's life when the volatile nitrate film in the booth ignites and causes Alfredo to loose his sight. As Toto grows up, he falls in love with Elena, a blonde beauty who proves tragically elusive. Alfredo, fearing that Toto will resign himself to a life in this tiny village, prompts the youngster to leave and never look back. Toto reluctantly heeds the advice and goes on to a successful career as a filmmaker. But when Alfredo dies years later, Toto, now known by the more dignified name of Salvatore DaVita, finally returns home.
When the film was shown here in the U.S., it was shorter than the version Tornatore approved for the release in Italy. About a decade later, Miramax released Cinema Paradiso: The New Version , which contains nearly an hour of footage left out of the American print. The San Diego Italian Film Festival has opted to show the U.S. release, quite frankly because it is the better version of the film. The New Version offers the previously unseen footage of an adolescent Salvatore loosing his virginity to a prostitute on the floor of the movie theater. But the majority of the added footage is at the end of the film in which the adult Salvatore returns home and meets the adult Elena. & The scenes restored to the first half of the film are a welcome addition but later footage & mdash;which is the bulk of this & ldquo;new & rdquo; version & mdash;is not only unnecessary but actually hurts the film. This new footage drags out the least successful section of the film and creates a series of false endings that only serve to distance us from the wonderful opening of the film. So my compliments to the San Diego Italian Film Festival programmers for going with the better version.
And it's in the opening scenes between Alfredo and Toto the child where Cinema Paradiso achieves real magic. Noiret and the tiny, incandescent Cascio have such a delightful rapport that you're held rapt by their interaction. There's sweetness but not syrupy sentiment to their relationship and we're saddened to see the little boy grow up. The film's early scenes of the theater remind us of what the film going experience once was like. It was a communal experience, a community center, and a place of worship for those who were truly devoted. But now many of those devotees prefer to watch special edition DVD's on their home theater system while others have simply forgotten the joyous ritual of going to the theater. The lively scenes inside the theater remind us of a time when movie going was something special. People may have talked during the film but it was interactive and not the annoyance of people taking cell phones calls in the middle of a movie.
Cinema Paradiso (rated PG and in Italian with English subtitles) is for anyone who loves the movies. So don't miss this opportunity to see a lovely valentine to the cinema on the big screen. And Tornatore's final montage of glorious movie images reaffirms the power and magic of cinema.
Companion viewing: Day for Night, The Magic Box, Shadow Magic, Play It Again Sam, The Purple Rose of Cairo