Cinema Paradise: Critical Analysis Essay

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One of Sicily’s prominent filmmakers, Giuseppe Tornatore, transcended the Italian film industry by breaking the conventional, stereotypical and ordinary. On the 17th of November 1988, Cinema Paradiso was released and it is a product of his creativity that helped the Italian cinema to its peak. The film follows the life story of a notable film director Salvatore di Vita who received news of the unfortunate demise of someone close to him. It takes the audience back to his childhood in Giancaldo where he developed a deep friendship with a film projectionist of a local cinema called Alfredo. Growing up without a father, Salvatore nicknamed “Toto”, looked upon Alfredo as his father figure and a mentor. Through Alfredo’s guidance, Toto fell in love with movies which forged a path to where he currently stands; however, his passion for films affected his relationship with those around him such as his mother and girlfriend, Elena. Because of his failure to pursue Elena, he was advised by Alfredo to leave town to chase his dreams and vow to never come back. In the present day, it is revealed that the person who met his demise is indeed Alfredo. Because of the nostalgia that Toto felt upon hearing Alfredo’s death, he defies Alfredo’s wish and went back to Giancaldo to attend the funeral. The past caught up with him consequent in his return to where it all started. Cinema Paradiso is remarkable in many aspects but specifically, the impact of passion and nostalgia shown in the film, the visualization of the subject matter, and how cinema becomes a part of one’s culture.

Cinema Paradiso was set in a fictitious Sicilian village of Giancaldo around the late 1940s just after World War Two. The social realism genre of this film deals with the realistic point-of-view of Sicilian society. It represents how Sicily dealt with the aftermath of war and emphasizes its rapid changes. During that time, television was not as rampant as it is today. People from Sicily heavily relied on the cinema to watch a film. One scene depicts how Sicilians were frustrated that the cinema would not let them in even after waiting several hours outside; however, because of the kindhearted duo, Toto and Alfredo, the Sicilians were given a chance to watch the film outside the cinema whilst being projected from within. It was indeed a time when cinema left a huge impact on the people of Sicily both culturally and socially despite being isolated from mainland Italy. The journey of Salvatore spans a 30-year period which documents the changes in society and even the history of film itself. The lives of the Sicilians reformed significantly on the grounds of the expeditious change that helped their way of life.

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The film features Sicilian architecture which can be seen in the early parts of the film such as the church and even the cinema itself. Its mise-en-scene was carefully thought of to be relevant to the time period; the cinema resembles a church which is not common today. Moreover, in the latter part of the film, one can observe the contemporary progress of society. The structure of the new cinema diverges from its old look with the addition of new things such as the neon signs; it mirrors that society is evolving. The lighting persistently changed throughout the film. As most scenes that involve Toto and Alfredo are shot in the tight space of the projection room, it is usually gloomy and shadowy; however, the scenes started to be more bright when Toto took over the job of Alfredo. Scenes that are shot from the past are much darker than the ones in the present which distinguishes the time period; a scene that stands out and gives a clear time jump is when the blind Alfredo touches the young Toto’s face where after the former gave advice, it jumps back to a now teenager Toto. Additionally, the costumes and makeup of the characters helped the flow of time. During the early years up to his teenage years, Toto wore what an average Italian child would wear; whereas, when he became an adult, he wears formal clothes which makes his success conspicuous. The implication of class hierarchy through clothing is also visible. Those of the higher class are often seen with extravagant clothing in contrast to those of the middle to lower class who wore ordinary but decent clothing. The aging of the characters was perceptible through the power of makeup. First, Alfredo is shown to have fewer wrinkles when he was younger. Secondly, after the burning incident, scars on Alfredo’s face are noticeable. Thirdly, other characters who were shown at the beginning of the film until the end clearly aged with an obvious addition of wrinkles and white hair; the part at the end where the present-day Toto looks back and sees familiar faces from the past who played integral part when he was just a young boy.

The camera shots and angles also helped the audience to feel the ambiance of the film. Within the cinema, the frequent usage of wide-angle shots and panning is evident; it is to establish the space. Dolly's ins and outs were also often used in the film, especially among the outdoor scenes, such as the church bells that overlook the town, the streets and alleys where young Toto can sometimes be seen, and even the ones where Alfredo gives love advice to teen Toto both inside the projection room and outside a building.

Cinema Paradiso harbors an exceptional music score composed by the brilliant Ennio Morricone—also responsible for the music scores of the untouchables and the hateful eight among others—who created an atmosphere of emotions through sound which is the goal of its director. During emotional moments such as when Toto left Giancaldo played Soft and mellow music to emphasize what the characters feel. It is also noticeable that whenever a flashback sequence is shown, a chime of a bell can be heard as if it announces the past; an interesting use of sound that associates with time. The speed of music adds a thrilling sensation to the audience as it emits the energy of the character on the scene; a scene where Toto runs from one village to another radiates active, spirited energy from the speed of both the character and the music. Nonetheless, the silence in the film is just as powerful as its counterpart. It usually symbolizes that something compelling is about to happen, such as: when Salvatore’s mother attempts to contact him at the beginning of the film, and in the end, the funeral scene was dramatically silent.

The characters in the entirety of the film spoke in the Sicilian dialect which is already challenging for mainland Italian audiences let alone non-Italian speakers; therefore, the beauty of language has strayed away for the people who watch the film with English subtitles to conform to its lingua franca. Nonetheless, the power of tenderness and various expressions of the actors made the film more stupendous and engaging.

The symbols in the film are also essential for the audience to interpret. For instance,     

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Cinema Paradise: Critical Analysis Essay. (2023, October 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
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