- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

The return of Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" in a so-called new version is a textbook example of a mixed cinematic blessing.
On one hand, the return of a famous or cherished movie in freshly minted theatrical prints is always desirable. On the other, the "old" version of "Paradiso" that became an American art-house hit in 1989 and won the Academy Award as best foreign language film ran a relatively trim 121 minutes. The restoration, playing locally at Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle, lasts 173 minutes.
Mr. Tornatore probably should have left well enough alone. His restorations don't serve to enhance an already awesome movie, as the complete version of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" did when it finally reached American art houses a generation after the original release. Nor do they restore coherence to a movie severely distorted by ill-advised cuts.
The failure of the director's original cut when the film was released in Italy in 1988 prompted the drastic reduction in its length. "Paradiso" caught on first at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and then in several international markets, the United States included.
No doubt it pained Mr. Tornatore to lose the footage to streamline "Cinema Paradiso," although the sacrifice proved to be commercially astute. Now one can see that it also prevented the filmmaker from belaboring his worst lovelorn reveries and tear-jerking lapses. What Mr. Tornatore goes out of his way to recapture are the sappiest, weakest episodes.
Most of the new old footage belongs to the final chapter of the scenario. Ironically, these passages also violate advice offered to the protagonist, young Salvatore Di Vita, by his mentor, the illiterate and maimed projectionist Alfredo, memorably portrayed by Philippe Noiret. "Don't come back. Don't give in to nostalgia," he says.
Alfredo hopes to encourage Salvatore, familiarly known as Toto, to venture well beyond the limits of Giancaldo. His advice is effective. We're introduced to Toto in the present, embodied by the French actor Jacques Perrin, as a successful filmmaker living in Rome. "Cinema Paradiso," however, also aims to make a case for moviegoing nostalgia, reflected in Toto's recollections from boyhood, when he fell in love with movies while growing up in a Sicilian town called Giancaldo.
The nostalgic time frame extends from World War II and the immediate postwar years when Toto is a resourceful little pest played by the wonderful 8-year-old Salvatore Cascio to the middle and late 1950s, when Toto is reincarnated as a lovesick teenager (Marco Leonardi).
By that point, he also has become the projectionist at a New Cinema Paradiso, replacing his beloved Alfredo, who was gravely injured during a fire that leaves the original site in smoldering ruins. The calamity sequence may be the film's most remarkable achievement. It begins on a sublimely playful and joyous note, as Alfredo responds to a popular clamor during the showing of a new movie by the Italian comic star Toto, not to be confused with little Toto. Alfredo uses a lens to project the image in two directions, servicing the theater audience while simultaneously beaming a duplicate onto the facade of a building in the town square. This brainstorm delights the overflow crowd until calamity engulfs the projection booth.
Anyone who hoards memories of favorite movies seen in richly stimulating or soothing theater environments is bound to feel a kinship with the Tornatore love stories that celebrate moviegoing. Indeed, you're a little surprised that the hero isn't named Salvatore Di Cinema.
The most effective human bond links Toto to Alfredo. Shortly before running out of time, Mr. Tornatore also reaffirms the bond between Toto and his widowed mother, Maria, played by Antonella Attili and Pupella Maggio, who gets the most eloquent maternal scenes as the elderly incarnation.
The love story that failed to levitate depicted the adolescent Toto's infatuation with a socially privileged schoolmate named Elena, played in her teens by Agnese Nano. In the 1989 version, she ceased to be a character after Toto left Giancaldo. She returns with a prolonged whimper in the restoration, where Elena gets ill-advised encores in the person of Brigitte Fossey.
Miss Fossey became a legendary child actress on the strength of her first movie appearance, as the orphaned child of Rene Clement's "Forbidden Games" 50 years ago. Mr. Tornatore, surprisingly, never finds a place to slip in an excerpt from "Forbidden Games." He does pay homage to an older French classic, Jean Renoir's movie version of Maxim Gorky's "The Lower Depths," while saluting two decades of film history from the booths of the Paradisos.
The most humorous contrast in the movie illustrates the disappearance of strict censorship. The village priest, Father Adelfio, played by Leopoldo Trieste, insists that Alfredo remove every embrace and kiss during the 1940s. By the time Toto's tenure in the booth is ending, Brigitte Bardot is on full display. When Toto later rummages through an abandoned New Paradiso, he finds discarded posters that suggest it became a porn house before closing for good.
When Mr. Perrin's Toto returns to Giancaldo, he is burdened with a reprise of Toto's unsuccessful courtship of Elena during the 1950s. I'm not sure how much of the additional 51 minutes is actually eaten away by had-we-but-known scenes between Miss Fossey and Mr. Perrin, but it feels like a lost weekend. Moreover, you have more time to brood about the fact that Mr. Perrin was always the least appealing embodiment of Toto. The mooniness that seemed slightly trying in the teenage character isn't improved when shifted to a supposed celebrity of the Italian film world in his 50s.
The grace note of the movie Alfredo's legacy, a reel of censored moments that serves as a summary of Toto's moviegoing apprenticeship now comes so late that it has to redeem a great deal of romantic drivel.
Mr. Tornatore pads the ending to such an extent that spectators will have too much time to mock or question his choices. For example, if the ghost of Elena has been haunting Toto all these years, why couldn't he hire a private detective to trace her whereabouts? It would not have been much of an assignment, since she evidently remained right there in Giancaldo. Sounds like a case worthy of Roberto Benigni, perhaps cast as the Roman cousin of Inspector Clouseau.


***
TITLE: "Cinema Paradiso"
RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor, fleeting nudity, interludes of domestic conflict and a terrifying episode about a theater fire)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, cinematography by Blasco Giurato, art direction by Andrea Crisanti, costumes by Beatrice Bordone and music by Ennio Morricone, with the "love theme" by Andrea Morricone. In Italian with English subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 173 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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