“Cinema Paradiso” - Film Deep Focus

Story posted January 10, 2023 in

One of the questions everyone is always asked in elementary school is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Many often give answers like astronaut, firefighter, or maybe a pilot. Unfortunately, most are then told to think “realistically” and often adopt a profession they have no genuine passion for.

The 1988 Italian masterpiece, “Cinema Paradiso,” directed by Guiseppe Tornatore, is simply a film about chasing dreams and finding someone to love.

The film opens with middle-aged Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) receiving news of the death of a man named Alfredo. The viewers are not yet privy to Toto’s relations with the man. However, after seeing the expression on his face, the audience instantly knows Alfredo played a significant role in Toto’s life.

In a flashback to Toto’s childhood, the viewers meet Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), an older kind-hearted, quick-witted gentleman. The film is made up mostly of this flashback walking through Toto’s life leading up to the opening scene.

The film takes place in post-war Giancaldo, Sicily, and young Toto’s father hasn’t returned from the war. Alfredo works as a projectionist, manually tending to the film reels at the town theater, the “Cinema Paradiso.” Toto, who is an altar boy, spends most of his days in the projection booth with Alfredo.

Alfredo takes the role of Toto’s father figure and Toto begs Alfredo to be his apprentice. Alfredo responds by telling Toto that being a projectionist is no job for a bright young kid, and that Toto is destined for a more prestigious life. Enchanted by the films, Toto disregards this information and insists on following his passion, and Alfredo reluctantly agrees to teach him.

Throughout the first part of the film, the local priest watched the films alone before they were released to the public and rang a bell during every kissing scene, signaling Alfredo cut out the scene. Instead of splicing the scenes back into the film, Alfredo made a pile of them and told Toto that the scenes belonged to him.

In a moment of foreshadowing, Alfredo warns Toto of the dangers of possible fire if the friction of the film reel becomes too great. Soon after, the film catches fire and destroys the “Cinema Paradiso,” rendering Alfredo blind.

This was a catastrophic loss for the town, as going to the “Cinema Paradiso” held great social significance. One man in the city invested the money needed to rebuild the “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.”

In one of the most beautiful transitions in film history, Alfredo covers Toto’s face with his hand, and young Toto transforms into an older Toto (about 18 years old) before the viewers’ eyes. Then, Alfredo utters the insightful phrase, “Now that I’ve lost my sight, I see better.”

After Alfredo goes blind, he develops into a much wiser man and becomes somewhat of a somber realist. He guides Toto through a series of stories and lessons, most of which include quotes from protagonists in old films. The two often laugh about how Alfredo passes others' quotes off as his own.

The movie plot pivots when Toto meets a girl named Elena at his school. He falls in love with her, but she doesn’t feel the same, so Toto turns to Alfredo for advice.

Alfredo tells an intriguing story about a boy and a princess, which captures Toto; however, the story ends abruptly with Alfredo claiming that he doesn’t understand the meaning behind the tale.

Toto imitates the boy in the story, waits outside Elena’s house, and goes to great lengths to make her feel the same way, but is unsuccessful. Toto loses all hope of being with her until she surprises him at the “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.”

They share a special moment at the Cinema, and they have an amazing few months together until Elena receives word that she will attend University in Palermo, Italy. Toto is devastated as he realizes that he may lose Elena forever.

Toto joins the military and tries to contact Elena, but he fails to reach her. When he returns to Giancaldo, the town is empty, and in the words of Alfredo, “What [he] came to find isn’t there; what was [his] is gone.”

Toto visits Alfredo, who is much weaker and spends most of his days in solitude, and once again seeks advice on the course of his life. Alfredo tells him, “I don’t want to hear you talk anymore. I want to hear others talking about you.” In another example of Alfredo’s tough love, he tells Toto to move away and never return to Giancaldo.

In the farewell scene, Tornatore masterfully pans to a close-up of Toto’s hands gripping tightly on the backs while he embraces all those he loves that he will be leaving behind.

The final goodbye is for Alfredo, and he gives Toto the most important advice of the entire movie, “Whatever you end up doing, love it, the way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.” This is the first time in the film that the viewer sees Alfredo’s raw emotion, and this moment encapsulates his love for Toto.

This statement is one of the most crucial steps towards living a happy life and one of the two main themes in the film. Toto takes Alfredo’s advice to heart and becomes a big-time filmmaker in Rome.

For the first time in 30 years, Toto returns to Giancaldo for Alfredo’s funeral. Tourism, billboards, and traffic have taken over the once-quiet town. He visits his mother for the first time since he left as a young man and realizes how much time has passed and how little he knows about her.

This phenomenon is even more exaggerated at Alfredo’s funeral precession. Tornatore carefully pans the camera on the old and wrinkled faces of the people of Toto’s past, all showing a smile with a bit of pain behind their eyes. Everyone was there except for Elena, whom he never saw or heard from again. At the precession, Alfredo’s wife revealed that Alfredo had left a gift for Toto.

Toto questions whether he should stay in Giancaldo or return to Rome, but his mother tells him, “your life is there; here are only ghosts. Let it go, Toto.” People tend to chase after what was, instead of focusing on what is or what could be. This mindset makes it nearly impossible to move forward and grow.

Toto returns to Rome the following day with Alfredo’s gift, which was a film reel. In the most incredible movie ending of all time, Toto watches in disbelief as he realizes that Alfredo has spliced together all of “his” kissing scenes from the old films into a single reel.

In a bittersweet moment, Toto realizes he is missing something in his life; love. Life is not just about having someone to kiss; it is about having someone to love and spend your life with.

The beautiful film amounts to the single message of finding something to love and someone to love.

Rating: 5/5

Matthew Peters is a first-year majoring in journalism. To contact him, email mbp5830@psu.edu.