It’s easy to claim that Cinema Paradiso, the 1988 cult classic directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, is a love story. Tornatore’s second feature, set in a post-war Italian town, focuses on the relationship between a precocious young boy, Salvatore (also known by the nickname Toto) and a projectionist, Alfredo. Widely celebrated and beloved since release, Cinema Paradiso showcases the myriad forms of love which can engulf one’s life. The storylines contained within the film, depict a parental love between the lonely projectionist and his protégé Salvatore, as well the hopeless love for a lost one, illustrated by Salvatore’s mother’s longing for her assumed dead husband, and an affection for one’s home and community. The film is, at its core, a sonnet to cinema, as the love for the art and its craft is constantly shown not only through the protagonist’s passionate relationship with film, but also the communities’. Towing the line between the fantastical and realist, Cinema Paradiso illustrates how film, the main source of art in a small Sicilian town, creates a sense of escapism and social connection for a community consumed by depression and poverty. Salvatore’s love for cinema provided him with a joyful and idealistic lens for him to view his hometown and unfortunate circumstances. This fondness for film is shared by many in the community who clamour to the movie theatre, even bringing their own chairs for the hope of experiencing the art.
Salvatore’s love for art is showcased through his other experiences, as even the romantic storyline which dominates much of Cinema Paradiso’s second act, is the outcome of his fondness for stories. After Alfredo tells him a fairy tale about a soldier who waits 99 days and nights under the balcony of the princess whom he wishes to win over, he attempts to do the same for the girl of his affection, Elena. Once Salvatore eventually succeeds, it’s apparent that his connection with Elena reflects the films he consumed during his childhood, as their relationship is highly romanticised. Their final scene together, a passionate kiss in the rain, is strikingly cinematic, even pictured on a theatre screen on many of Cinema Paradiso’s posters. However, although the relationship between Salvatore and his first love is highly idealised, their connection fades, as he is sent to the military, and Elena moves away with her family. Even with a sincere attempt to find and write to Elena, Salvatore’s letters fail to reach his love, leaving the protagonist heartbroken. A similar fate to the other forms of love depicted in the film, as once he returns to his town, Salvatore becomes convinced to leave behind his home, family and community, making Alfredo a promise to never come back.
Cinema Paradiso illustrates the unstable nature of the love most of us are taught to seek and cherish. The love for family, home and a romantic partner fail to become a constant conscious presence throughout Salvatore’s life, while his love for art perseveres, as he becomes a successful filmmaker. Similarly, art and cinema create a sense of community in this small town which otherwise lacks the presence of unity, during an era of depression. One of the film’s first scenes, depicts the towns Priest censoring a movie to be shown in the theatre, by making Alfredo take out any form of sexual content. A decision which angers many who desire to experience the many aspects of life through cinema. However, after the original movie theatre tragically burns down, another one is soon built in its place, showing more explicit content, with hordes of filmgoers cheering together once they finally see a kiss on screen.
As the movie progresses, it gradually becomes melancholier, with its last scenes set in the 1980’s modern day, with a more ‘realist’ tone. Salvatore revisits the town after years of never returning with a less idealised perspective, even witnessing his beloved cinema being destroyed. However, Cinema Paradiso’s famous final scene pulls the audience back into the same dreamlike lens which consumed Salvatore’s childhood and adolescence; as he watches a film left to him by his recently deceased mentor, realising that it is composed of the explicit clips Alfredo was forced to cut out. The footage, which should have been discarded and thrown away, finds a new life decades later, as it transports Salvatore back to his childhood and home, and creates a sense of nostalgia not only for the protagonist, but the audience as well. The constant narrative throughout the film demonstrates that peoples’ love for art, in its many forms, will never truly cease to exist. Cinema Paradiso has been treasured for generations, as it showcases how this love for art carries a universal understanding and is an integral part of the human experience.