Cinema Paradiso: Giuseppe Tornatore’s Love Letter to Film, Starring Philippe Noiret

A young boy is mesmerized by the movie theater in his small Italian town (in the years following WWII), and pursues a friendship with its crusty but warmhearted projectionist, played to perfection by Philippe Noiret.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Cinema Paradiso

Original release poster

Written and directed Giuseppe Tornatore, “Cinema Paradiso” tell the story of a successful Italian director named Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who returns to his rural Sicilian village after 30 years to attend the funeral of his dear friend and former mentor, who advised him when he was a boy to forsake his humble origins and journey to Rome to make a life for himself.

Both emotional and sentimental, “Cinema Paradiso” shows nostalgia for the mythical magic of collective movie-going in the past, before the age of television, when movies were the main source of entertainment.

In an extended flashback, Salvatore reviews his post-WWII childhood and adolescence, specifically his relationship with his friend, the town’s projectionist Alfredo (French star Noiret) at the town’s only theater, the Cinema Paradiso. The whole town has been affected by the War and for many the theater has become a refuge from the poor, depressing life that surrounds them.

A prankish altar boy, Salvatore, or Toto (played as a boy by Salvatore Cascio) follows the local priest to a private screening at the Paradiso. Also the town’s censor, the priest registers his disapproval of certain moments in films (kissing scenes arouse ire), and Alfredo has to snip out the offensive footage. Toto asks Alfredo to give him a strip of discarded celluloid, and soon a bond evolves between them.

Going to the movies is depicted as a reverential act, as common as going to church, and director Tornatore goes for utter sentimentality with is reaction shots of the audiences in a state of awe, laughing and crying, as the seen movies require. The film benefits form on-location shooting at Tornatore’s hometown of Bagheria, Sicily.

After an abortive Italian release in 1988 (at 155 min), the movie was shortened by half an hour to 123 minutes and was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes film festival, before winning the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

Made on a budget of $5 million, the movie was a huge global hit; in the U.S. alone, it grossed over $12 million.

Toto is played as a child by Salvatore Cascio, as an adolescent by Marco Leonardi, and as an adult by Jacques Perrin.

Special DVD Edition

The 2006 special edition DVD features the domestic version of the film as well as the three-hour international directors cut, the CD soundtrack, lobby card reproductions, feature-length commentary, a documentary on the making of the film and more.

Oscar Context:

Cinema Paradiso won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in a contest that included Camille Claudel from France; Jesus of Montreal from Canada; Waltzing Rigtze from Denmark; and What Happened to Santiago from Puerto Rico.


Italian-French co-production

Directed, written by Giuseppe Tornatore
Produced by Franco Cristaldi, Giovanna Romagnoli

Music by Ennio Morricone, Andrea Morricone

Cinematography Blasco Giurato
Edited by Mario Morra

Production company: Les Films Ariane

Distributed by Miramax Films (US)

Release date: November 17, 1988

Running time: 155 minutes

Budget: $5 million
Box office: $12,397,210