Sunday, November 14, 2010

No, Toto. Nobody said it. This time it's all me. Life isn't like in the movies. Life... is much harder.

No 239 – Cinema Paradiso
Director – Guiseppe Tornatore

I love cinema. I’m hoping this blog highlights that whilst I may have no skill as a writer, I’m a definite fan of film. What I love about this is that whilst there is a very human relationship at the heart of the film, the film’s main ‘character’ is the titular cinema.

The film takes place – predominantly – in the 40’s, and echoes something which I’d first seen in Spirit of the Beehive, the idea of the cinema being at the heart of the community. It is the town’s centre of escapism and it is a building which plays host to all of life’s events. Whilst the town watches films, the viewer witnesses courting, sex, wanking, breast feeding, political uprising and murder all taking place within the same 4 walls.

The Paradiso is more than just a place to watch Buster Keaton – it is the place where the town meets and mingles. It is a mini microcosm and it is utterly utterly beautiful.

As vital as the building is – even I couldn’t just watch that for 3 hours, and I’ve watched The Tree of Wooden Clogs. So lets look at the other main focus of the film. The relationship between the cinema’s projectionist Alfredo (played by Philippe Noiret) and the cocky young boy Toto (played the really rather adorable Salvatore Cascio). It is made clear that Toto’s dad has probably died in the war and so Alfredo acts as both a friend and a father figure to the young Toto. It is Alfredo’s rebellious spirit which influences Toto as he grows up and which strengthens the bond between them. So, when the Paradiso and projectionist fall victims to the dangerously flammable nature of old film (they should have listened to Samuel L Jackson) – Alfredo has to pass the torch on to his young apprentice.

This film begins in modern times (well, the late 80’s) and chronicles the majority of Toto’s (or Salvatore, as he prefers to be called when he grows up) journey to adulthood in flashback. This means we get to see the very interesting development of the town as it develops through the ages (one of the many many elements I find captivating in Back to the Future). It also, unfortunately, means Toto grows up.

Marco Leonardi plays the teenage Salvatore and he just doesn’t have the same wickedly cheeky screen presence of the actor playing his younger self. He is a handsome young man and a hilariously over dramatic romantic. This stems from his upbringing. Not by his mother. Not by Alfredo. But by the Paradiso itself. He is a man who has been raised by cinema, by the brash romantic ideals of old films and it is clear in both his actions and in the obsession he shows in his affections.

During his obsession with a girl in the town, the relationship between him and Alfredo changes again, whilst it is still powerful it has lost the charm and the watchability of the younger Toto's friendship. I found the middle part of the film slightly lacking when compared to the charm of youth and the intensity of the adult Salvatore returning home for Alfredo's funeral (not a spoiler, I assure you)..

The final scenes are really touching, the most heartbreaking scenes don't come from the funeral itself but in the ruins of the Paradiso.
It is a sign of the times. With large chain cinemas making it harder and harder for independent cinemas to compete.... please support them. They need your help and it would be a tragic day if we lost them.

A day where I can't go to a licensed bar in the afternoon or eat home made cake in the morning whilst watching a film in a cinema with legs sticking out of it....