Thursday, July 24, 2003

I wanted to review One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but let's keep it to just one old movie for review, shall we? I really feel way too lazy to actually bother with that other film, though it also warrants an A+ in my book. While I loved that movie, Cinema Paradiso struck me harder...

Cinema Paradiso (Director’s Cut):

They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot…

This is a bit of a synopsis based on Fr. Nick’s handout:

Cinema Paradiso is the story of a lifelong love affair with movies of a young boy named Toto, in the small Italian town of Giancaldo. Enchanted by the flickering images, he yearns for the secret of the cinema’s magic and is elated when Alfredo, the projectionist, agrees to reveal the mysteries of moviemaking to him. Toto looked to Alfredo as the closes thing to a father, as he himself is fatherless. The movies become a secondary mother to him, for they teach him everything he felt he needed to know about life and romantic love. When the day comes for Toto to leave Giancaldo, Alfredo makes him promise never to look back but keep moving forward. He leaves behind the woman he loves, Elena, and with a heavy heart, follows Alfredo’s advice for the next thirty years, until the day a message arrives that beckons him back home to a secret that will change his life forever, and he will learn in the end that indeed, life is not like the movies…

Alfredo died. And now, his return to Giancaldo will throw him into a cacophony of emotions, all clamouring at him, as the past, the present, and the future all roll into one to haunt him… and humble him.

Well, that’s my near rip of Fr. Nick’s introduction, with a few ideas of my own thrown in…

In a small town such as Giancaldo, Cinema Paradiso was certainly a haven for the townsfolk, where they are blessed with a respite from their daily mundane lives. Here, their lives carry on, whilst the lives of total strangers unfold in the screen in front of them, and this inimitable magic of Cinema Paradiso was what moulded Toto to believe that life was going to be a spectacular movie for him.

But movies are often too splendid or too horrid for life to be its exact counterpart, for interspersed with the highs and the lows of life are long, agonizing mundane moments that seem to not fall into place with everything else; whereas the economy of time in a film requires the coherence of nearly anything they depict onscreen. Toto did not realize that his life was far from being like any movie he has ever seen. In his dealings with love, he realizes how hurtful it is to be given a promise that will be broken, more so a promise thrown into the air, but all the same broken. At the same time, Toto discovers the pang of pain that comes with realizing that those whom you least expected to were the ones who actually kept their promises.

The rusty anchors by the sea were the people who watched the movies embodied by the deep blue sea in front of them. While the sea is constantly beautiful in the scene, the rusty anchors were simply fading away. It was clearly saying that unlike films, life is not as timeless in real life as they are portrayed onscreen to be. Life unfolds to us, and not everything that unravels of our lives is being watched by everybody else, unlike a cinema. When Toto’s mother left her knitting and it started unravelling itself, that reminded us of how Toto’s life unravelled without those whom he held dear to him watching.

I really felt that the film was really tugging on my heart strings when they showed the cinema being demolished in favor of a parking lot. It was really an emotional tug-of-war between the ways that the small town has been accustomed to all these years, and the new, upstart law of the land that has taken its place. While the elder residents of Giancaldo were in tears as Cinema Paradiso crumbled into a mere memory, the younger townsfolk of Giancaldo even found it as a moment of amusement. How would Alfredo have felt had he still been alive?

There was more to be said about Alfredo than the mere notion that he was like a father to Toto. If it wasn’t for him, it was rather likely that Toto and Elena would’ve ended up together, but instead, Alfredo never told Toto that Elena came to see him during his last day in Giancaldo. It was painful, indeed, but Toto had to realize that Alfredo did what he felt was best, and his separating Toto from Elena was but a small step towards leading him to the path back to reality: that indeed, life is not like the movies.

So yes, Toto was a success in the film industry, and yes, Toto never knew for himself how he and Elena could’ve turned out to be (Especially in the original version of the film, since Elena and Toto never met again there.). In spite of these facts, Toto was a better man from it all. Alfredo believed in the story of the princess and the soldier: would it not have been better for the soldier to never know if the princess would have kept her promise to love him? While it’s not a flawless argument, it’s hard to disagree with it. Yes, to never know is painful, but Toto never saw the point of it all, and NEVER listened to Alfredo’s words: NEVER LOOK BACK. Over the years, he did, and that was the ONLY reason he was hurting for that long.

Alfredo really showed his mettle in that film. I must say that he was my favorite character, seeing how in spite of his pathos of being a poor, uneducated man, he still managed to touch Toto’s life and lead him to a far better life than he could have ever possibly had if he never had a mentor like Alfredo. Alfredo was well justified in trying to separate Toto from Elena: with Toto’s life all ahead of him, and knowing how passionate Toto was, Alfredo knew that it wasn’t good for him to face the world while nursing a potential broken heart. Here was the one person who knew what Toto really needed at the time, and he was right.

Toto couldn’t deny the mixture of joy and gratitude that he felt when he was watching with teary eyes the collection of kissing scenes at the end. Over the years, the parish priest of Giancaldo personally saw to censoring so much as a kiss on film, and a good deal of the spliced scenes remained with Alfredo. He promised to give the collection to Toto: a promise Toto himself had forgotten. Ironically, Elena also gave Toto a promise: that she would never love another. But she did. In the end, the princess broke her promise, after all.

But Alfredo didn’t.

Yes, there was sadness in his tears as he lost the closest thing he had to a father, but he realized in the end that Alfredo was doing what his so-called limited intellectual capacity told him was truly best for Toto, and had Toto truly taken Alfredo’s advice and never looked back, everything would’ve been perfect. Those kissing scenes Toto was watching symbolized the very bond between Alfredo and Toto: a human, imperfect bond (The scenes, after all, were deemed sinful by the parish priest.) that was not anything like the movies, but was truly a tale worth telling, nonetheless.

I concur: while I haven’t seen the original, edited version of this film, I can tell that with the focus on Toto and Elena more prominent now than the focus on Toto and Alfredo, THIS IS A DIFFERENT MOVIE ALTOGETHER. But it is no less as splendid, I believe.

What’s not to love about this movie? Of course, I really agree with Abby when she told me that taking out Toto’s meeting with Elena thirty years later would’ve made the impact of Toto’s discoveries a lot more significant. While it seemed like a rather long film, I still believe that it was simply amazing how the medium attempted to distinguish itself from what it is attempting to imitate (That is, film imitating life.) to the point that it almost demeans itself. The self-deprecation is what got to me. Instead of making me see cinema as mere escapism, Cinema Paradiso instead pointed me to how powerful the medium itself is. Where else can you hear about a film that was made to say that life wasn’t like film?

Marcelle’s Evaluation: A+

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