Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, Italy / France 1989).

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This popular classic film has been released in a digital format. Presumably this is partly to take advantage of the Xmas season. On its initial release in the UK in 1990 the film was voted the favourite in a poll of The Guardian readers. I have looked at several reviews but not one of them mentioned that there is actually a Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso: The Special Edition) which was released in the UK in 1994. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian commented on the re-release that he was “the reviewer who confessed to finding Cinema Paradiso a bit sugary and the kid [Salvatore as a child – Salvatore Cascio] a bit annoying.” Mr Bradshaw has not, apparently, seen the Special Edition.

This version extends the film from 123 minutes to 175 minutes. It also transforms the film from a somewhat sentimental drama to a complex, if more downbeat, exploration of Italian culture and cinema. Famously the film presents numerous extracts from Italian, European and Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s screened at the Paradiso. These remain in the longer version but the addition of nearly an hour presents a major ellipsis, almost all from the third segment of the film.

Essentially the opening introduces us to the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin). The largest segment of the film is an extended flashback to when he was at first a viewer then a projectionist at the cinema. In the final epilogue he returns to his home island of Sicily to attend the funeral of his mentor Alfredo (Phillippe Noiret).

The film is a romance, first of cinema, but also of Salvatore’s passion for a young woman Elena (Agnese Nano). The full-length epilogue brings unexpected information and resonance to the romance. A keen-eyed friend of mine had spotted the clue that remains in the earlier truncated version; a brief glimpse of Brigitte Fossey in the montage of brief scenes that accompanies the end credits. The addition of her character to the story brings a whole biter-sweet amplification to the tale. It also becomes clear that the long version is the full version of the story as originally conceived by the writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore.

The filling out of the story also adds complexity to many aspects of the film: notably the use of film extracts, especially clips from well-known Neo-realist and post-Neo-realist art films made in Italy. The motifs are both visual and aural: a student once offered me a very fine essay that traced the sound and musical motifs across the film.

The other famous aspect of this well-loved film is a final montage of film extracts compiled by Alfredo before his death. These too take on added resonance in the longer version. The originally released shorter version is a fine and moving film. The longer version seems to me one of the masterworks of Italian cinema, which takes on greater complexity with every viewing. A couple of years ago the same friend checked and their was a single 35mm copy of the The Special Edition available in the UK. If this is still on offer perhaps some imaginative exhibitor could screen the film in its original release format. I am sure Peter Bradshaw, and many other film lovers, would find the three hours immensely rewarding.

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2 comments

  1. des1967

    I’m glad I read this, however belatedly. I’ve always been in the Bradshaw camp on this one despite the many pleasures o the film and look forward to the seeing the extended version (which I assumed would be ‘more of the same’. I hope it does improve the experience but it’s not always the case – the thought the lengthier ‘dierector’s cut’ of Bertolucci’s 1900 was a bit of a disaster, especially the slapstick ending.

  2. keith1942

    Hi des,

    I saw the full-length 1900 on good quality 35mm prints at Il Cinema Ritrovato. And Bertolucci was there as well.
    I rate the film very highly. Part I is clealry superior to Part II – and the ending is a cop-out. But it still ranks among the great Italian films.

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