“Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)”

Movie Review: “Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)”

Great movies are great when the people who watched them can understand and relate to them. Needless to say that “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” is a great movie, and is often applauded by critics and the masses alike because its themes and narratives reach out to the people and offers a warm and humanistic view of our human existence.

First and foremost, this movie is a movie that describes the simplest and most basic of our human emotions, love (though not in a conventional sense). It is about the love between a child and movies. It is about the love for the place in which they are born in (although this is mixed with a pinch of loathing, but hey, what is love but the most complicated of all emotions?). It is about the pure and innocent teenage love between a man and a woman. But most of all, it is about the love that sprouts like a disease between two men, one a wide-eyed and curious boy named Toto, and the other a man hardened by years upon years of work, and wise to the realities of the world, named Alfredo.

Toto (young)
Toto (old)

Like most epic romance movies, it is similar to “Gone With the Wind” and “The English Patient”, in that love is only a background for the main stories that take place in it. “Gone With the Wind” describes a woman’s ambivalent love towards a man, while describing the Civil War era; and “The English Patient” similarly depicts the destructive love affair between a mysterious man and a determined woman, while portraying a vivid picture of the final years before World War I and II. And like those two movies, “Cinema Paradiso” depicts a love that is all encompassing, passionate, while including detailed descriptions of culture, ideologies, and redemption.

Let us start from analyzing the love between Toto and Alfredo. The two are the most unlikely duos of all time. As one is a mischievous and “foxy” (as described by Alfredo) boy, estranged at home, and found his love for movies while watching Alfredo work in the projecting booth. The other is a wise and eccentric old man who loathes his work, yet at the same time embraced it as if he was born to do it. Together, they form a “Tom & Jerry” like relationship, in which Toto tries to elude the other’s beatings while Alfredo chases Toto away so as not to end up similarly like him, with a lonely life and a difficult lifestyle. But it is easy to see the affection both have for each other. And like many other children who lost their father, Toto discovered a haven in the projection booth and in Alfredo’s presence, forming an attachment with Alfredo that is both poignant and moving, while creating a pseudo-parent-child relationship with each other, after they decided to put away their conflicts and embrace each other’s presence (which is enhanced since Alfredo doesn’t have children, and found the potential for parenthood in Toto).

In some ways, the relationship between the two reminds me of the relationship between Santiago and Manolin in “The Old Man and The Sea”. While Santiago is a romanticist and has a very positive outlook both on his life and his constant struggles with mother nature, especially the sea, Alfredo is much more critical of his time and has a much more cynical view on life, which is all the more potentiated by the difficulties he faced in life (the accident in the booth). But what is similar between the two is the touching love they have towards the children figures in their story. As demonstrated in the final scenes of “Cinema Paradiso”, Alfredo still loves Toto very much, and is all he can think of even at his deathbed.

Now we shall return to discuss Toto’s love for the movies. Maybe it is because the escapist qualities a movie has that allows people to dwell in fantasies that attracted Toto to it, or maybe it is because in a projection booth, Toto finally finds a fragment of home which he will never find in his own estranged home. Maybe. But what can be known is that Toto loves movies, and movies during those times are as rare as gems, as there were no TVs, no DVDs, and no video players that can allow a person to watch movies anytime they want. There is only one place for it, and it is through the projection of light through the hole in the wall, that people can finally witness the magical qualities of cinema. And so, all sorts of people crowded into the cinema, ranging from a priest that rings his bell at every “obscene” scene (actually, the movies only have people kissing, just imagine what he would do if he is living in this decade), to a crazy that proclaims his ownership of the city square and chases people off during midnight. There are those who sit at the upper level of the cinema (who think they are of a higher class in their bourgeois banality) who spits at the cheering crowd below, those who cheer and shout and laugh and cry at every scene of the movie, children who masturbated at beautiful women on the screen. You would think by watching this movie that every Italian is loud and boorish, and wear their emotions on their sleeves.

One other love that deserves  noting is the innocent and beautiful love between Elena and the teenage Toto. In many ways, this love reminds me of the doomed love of “Romeo and Juliet”. And ironically it is Elena’s father who separates the two apart, just because he believes that Toto doesn’t deserve Elena due to his lower class birth. But the love is quite impacting because it is Toto’s first love, and it is actually quite cheesy (as with many other adolescent love). Putting aside its cheesiness, this short relationship actually affects Toto a lot, and it is actually one of the pivotal reasons that motivates Toto to move on to Rome and pursue his dreams.

But the love stories in Toto’s life only serves as a single theme, as this film also deals with the idea of sentimentality and nostalgia. In many scenes, we can observe that Toto is driven by sentimentality and lingers in the past just because he couldn’t let go of it, as the past is most often than not, the most beautiful parts of our life. There is a great deal of nostalgia involved in the movie, as it seems that the director himself is nostalgic of the simple and innocent past, where everything isn’t as complex as it is now (the film is actually partly autobiographic). But what Alfredo conveys to Toto is that we should crush the past and move on, to embrace a pragmatist view of life and to walk down a path that is rooted in realism. It was Alfredo that encourages Toto to go to Rome, to let go of the past, and to move on in his life so that Toto can fulfill his life’s dream, to become a director. Alfredo is not only the father figure to Toto, he is the Socrates to Toto’s Plato, the Julius Caesar to Toto’s Augustus. In one touching scene where Alfredo says his final goodbye to Toto at the train station, we can see he is as equally tortured as Toto to depart from each other. But when he whispers in Toto’s ear, “Don’t come back!” we can see his determination.

There are many poignant and moving scenes throughout the movie, and one in particular moved me to tears, which is the scene where Alfredo teaches Toto how to broadcast the movie to a crowd outside the cinema. As Alfredo slowly deflects the projector’s light to a building outside, and as the small screen slowly moves through the walls to reach the building, it is obvious that this should be one of the finest scenes in movie history. But what is all the more heartbreaking is that this momentary happiness will end as soon as it starts. And this is where the movie thrives in, as it lets us to witness the beautiful parts of our nostalgia, while forcing us to never give in to it, and face our constantly changing reality. The message is this, we should move on, and let go of the old past. This message cannot be more clear, as when the cinema (itself named “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”) is demolished to pave way for a new parking lot. And when the final scenes reveal itself, we witness Toto revel in the deepest depths of Alfredo’s love towards him, as he comes to terms with the past and tie up all loose ends, and make way for the future.

One of the most moving scenes in the history of film

This should be a movie that I find all movie-goers and cinephiles will love to see. And much like the movie “Hugo”, directed by Martin Scorsese, which features another equally mischievous boy, embarking on a journey to help one of the world’s first filmmaker, Georges Méliès, to help him regain his passion in movies, “Cinema Paradiso” is just as magical and enchanting in its narratives of hope and happiness.


But what is the most important message is seen when Toto went back to Sicily to attend Alfredo’s funeral, as when he discovers after 30 years of departure, that everything has changed.

Yet, at the same time, nothing has.

One of the finest endings ever
Posted in Movie Review.

Hew studied at HELP (love that school), is a Psych grad, and currently works at a non-consequential job for non-consequential wages. Talk with him about literature or the arts (visual and audio), or just anything related to pop culture and he will spazz with geekish excitement (please talk to him, he is lonely and needs help). He lives in Malaysia.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.