“Cinema Paradiso” was not only made by someone who loves movies, it was made by someone who romanticized the experience of sitting in a theater. It ties the milestones in childhood with the experiences of going to the movies in a way that anyone can relate to.
Over the years in a small Sicilian village a few years after Mussolini, the people gathered in the movie house to be entertained. They taunt the hero whenever he does not get the girl. The boys in the front row share cigarettes while women breastfeed. A man who sits in the balcony spits down on those below. The young Salvatore (called Toto) doesn’t let the audience interfere with his movie watching experience. They watch old westerns along with shorts of Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Buster Keaton.
Through the movie house (called Cinema Paradiso) the projectionist Alfredo meets Toto. He first sees him as a pest. But he soon realizes that Toto is so fascinated by the movies that he wants to be an active part of them. This translates into being a projectionist just like Alfredo. But Alfredo knows the truth. Throughout his life, Alfredo works to convince Toto that to stay and be a projectionist is not worth living. He tells him to leave and to never come back. That he is not welcome.
Years pass and Toto is now a famous film director who has not went back to Sicily. This is until he hears that Alfredo has passed. He returns and finds that not much has changed, besides Cinema Paradiso being shut down due to the arrival of video. Alfredo’s wife gives Toto a gift from Alfredo. What follows is the entire reason to watch the film.
In his boyhood, there was a priest who would censor every movie that passed through town. Whenever he saw a scene he believed to be pornography (e.i. kissing), he rang a bell and Alfredo would mark the role to cut it out.
When the adult Toto returns to Rome, he views the film and sees that what was saved was every kiss that was ever cut from every movie shown at Cinema Paradiso. It becomes clear that the movie all led to this moment. Nevermind Toto’s boyhood love and the changing Italian culture. What matters now is that Toto can now see these films as complete.
Director Giuseppe Tornatore loves the movies. Each film shown in “Cinema Paradiso” – both the film and the movie house, was chosen because at some point in time, Tornatore was touched by them. His film and love have touched me.