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Time to be nostalgic about nostalgia

31 January 2014

Stephen Brown enjoys a film-maker's story again, 25 years on

Projectionist and altar boy: Salvatore Cascio as (the child) Salvatore Di Vita, and Philippe Noiret as Alfredo, in Cinema Paradiso

Projectionist and altar boy: Salvatore Cascio as (the child) Salvatore Di Vita, and Philippe Noiret as Alfredo, in Cinema Paradiso

CINEMA PARADISO (Cert. PG), the tale of a famous film director's return to the Sicilian village in which he grew up during the 1940s, won many hearts as well as awards after its initial release in 1988. A 25th-anniversary edition was released last month on Blu-ray. Besides the 124-minute version theatrically distributed at the time, the disc includes Giuseppe Tornatore's 174-minute Director's Cut.*

I tend to feel that less is more; but the Blu-ray has plenty of add-ons featuring Tornatore, including an analysis of the kissing sequence. There has been much speculation about exactly which films' romantic moments are spliced together by the local projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who mentors the young Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio). The scene comes at the end of the film, when the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) watches with enchantment the footage previously censored by Fr Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste), the parish priest.

This finale could be interpreted as a judgement on Roman Catholic attitudes to cinema and sex. But that would be to ignore the film's clear acknowledgement of the Church's promotion of film when many such communities had their own parish cinema. Cinema Paradiso also juxtaposes scenes of Salvatore assisting the priest as an altar boy with his time in the projection booth. It reminded me of the director Martin Scorsese's admission that he owed his spiritual formation equally to the Church and to the cinema.

Salvatore, as child and then adolescent, is reared by a lone mother, but in effect has two fathers from whom he seeks guidance: the priest, and Alfredo, whose wisdom is derived from the classic films to which he introduces the boy. Ultimately, this is a film about daring to have dreams, which, of necessity, impel us out of our comfort zones. Salvatore must leave the safety and pleasures of his Paradisoif he is to discover and develop his full potential.

It is a view of the Fall in keeping with St Irenaus's theology and that of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which Adam and Eve, with "Providence their guide . . . Through Eden took their solitary way". Costly, but arguably worth it.

*A DVD of the film is also available (FCD820), without the Director's Cut. It includes a commentary with the director and the Italian film expert Millicent Marcus. Both discs are distributed by Arrow Films.

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