Cinema Paradiso (1988): A World Cinema review

Cinema Paradiso Movie Poster

“Yes. Salvatore. Salvatore Di Vita,” she says to the person on the other line, “I’m his mother.” After a few minutes, the old lady, with much disappointment, glances at her daughter, and puts the phone down. The daughter tells her not to be upset and that he will not come. The mother, full of longing for her son, dismisses her daughter and assures her that he should hear the news from her or he would be deeply upset. She picks up the phone and tries once again. Meanwhile, her son, on the other side of the country, arrives home and gets ready for bed. As he lies down to sleep, his girlfriend tells him that his mother called earlier today. He asks if there is a problem but she comforts him by saying that all is fine. However, she continues, “she said someone’s died…someone named Alfredo. The funeral is tomorrow.” Stunned, he turns and looks at the wall. His eyes start to tear up as the memories mercilessly come flooding back. “Who is he, a relative?”, she asks him. We soon find out that Alfredo is much more than a regular friend. A special friend who changes this man’s life forever, in so many profound ways.

Philippe Noiret as Alfred (Left) & Salvatore Cascio (Right)
Philippe Noiret as Alfredo (Left) & Salvatore Cascio as ‘Totò’ (Right)

Cinema Paradiso is directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and stars Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Pupella Maggio, Antonella Attili, and Agnese Nano. The film tells the story of a famous filmmaker’s childhood and teenage life in his village where he first falls in love with the movies at the local theater. He soon forms a unique and profound relationship with the theater’s projectionist who makes him the man he is destined to become. Cinema Paradiso is an Italian drama motion picture that runs for around two hours and thirty minutes.

Cinema Paradiso Cinematography Scene 1

It must be said that Cinema Paradiso is such a memorable and beautiful film largely thanks to the outstanding direction of Giuseppe Tornatore. The motion picture is a massive achievement for Tornatore as he is able to give us a movie that is sensitive, humane, and full of emotion. Not only that, Tornatore also provides us with scene upon scene of gorgeous cinematography that perfectly captures the Italian countryside in a manner that makes it quite mesmerizing and poetic. I will never get enough of those scenes and always relish being swept away by those wonderful visuals.

There is also the hypnotic music of Cinema Paradiso that is created by legendary composer Ennio Morricone. It is no exaggeration to say that his musical pieces in the film are amongst the greatest ever to be featured in any film. The piece played during the film’s final scene is a particular one that strongly resonates with me. Marricone, with Tornatore’s supervision, does a fantastic job in Cinema Paradiso by selecting the right music that fits entirely with the film’s moods and settings.

Philippe Noiret as Alfredo (Left) & Salvatore Cascio as 'Totò' (Right)
Philippe Noiret as Alfredo (Left) & Salvatore Cascio as ‘Totò’ (Right)

It also must be said that Tornatore does an excellent job in getting the most out of his cast. They all deliver superb performances that keep the film fully in touch with its sentimental and loving atmosphere. Giuseppe Tornatore is surely a great director who is able to combine all the filmmaking elements and deliver a breathtaking film such as Cinema Paradiso.

Salvatore Cascio as 'Totò'
Salvatore Cascio as ‘Totò’

Speaking of Tornatore’s supervision of the actors, two performances clearly outshine all others in Cinema Paradiso: Salvatore Cascio as the child version of the story’s main character, Salvatore Di Vita, nicknamed ‘Totò’, and Philippe Noiret as Alfredo, the film projectionist at the village’s theatre.

Playing the younger version of the man who falls helplessly in love with the movies is Salvatore Cascio. Lovingly nicknamed by his village as simply Totò, Cascio is absolutely outstanding in Cinema Paradiso. Totò is a rascal and naughty boy who becomes completely mesmerized and absorbed by the world of cinema. His curiousity leads to him forming a unique friendship with the cinema’s projectionist. I really love Cascio in this film as he instantly makes us connect with Totò and his fascination with the magic that only movies can provide. There are not many child actors who have completely grabbed me with their acting performances but Cascio playing Totò is one of the few I genuinely enjoy watching again and again. He is truly flawless in this role.

Philippe Noiret as Alfredo & Salvatore Cascio as 'Totò'
Philippe Noiret as Alfredo & Salvatore Cascio as ‘Totò’

Philippe Noiret also gives off a terrific performance in Cinema Paradiso as the lovable film projectionist, Alfredo. Alfredo is a kind, gentle, and compassionate soul who develops a special relationship with Totò. The scenes in which both Cascio and Noiret share the screen are really wonderful and one gets the sense that both have been friends for a long time.

One of my favorite scenes is that in which both characters meet for the first time. Driven by his sudden love for the series of flashing screens on the village’s theater, Totò’s interest leads him to discover the source of the projection. He goes to the back of the theater and sees a man sitting quietly next to a magical machine whose lights emit images onto a large wall in the theater. Despite Alfredo’s attempts to shoo-away Totò, his kind heart finally succumbs to the child’s displays of innocence and allows him to stay and watch him work. That scene is one of many in Cinema Paradiso that powerfully resonates with me. It clearly demonstrates how talented and natural both actors are.

Philippe Noiret as Alfredo & Salvatore Cascio as 'Totò'
Philippe Noiret as Alfredo & Salvatore Cascio as ‘Totò’

At the heart of Cinema Paradiso is an undying love letter to the extraordinary world of cinema. Any film lover will instantly feel an affection towards the movie as it is a continuous celebration of this wonderful art that has given us images and moments we will never forget. In fact, that is where the power of Cinema Paradiso really lies. It is a film filled with such moments, most especially that final scene that gets me choked up every single time. Suffice to say, Cinema Paradiso is one of Italian cinema’s greatest gifts to the world and is one surely to remain so for many years and decades to come.

Jacques Perrin as the older version of Salvatore 'Totò' Di Vita
Jacques Perrin as the adult version of Salvatore ‘Totò’ Di Vita



Giuseppe Tornatore

Outstanding performances:

  • Philippe Noiret (as Alfredo)
  • Salvatore Cascio (as the younger version of Salvatore ‘Totò’ Di Vita)


2 hours and 35 minutes




Drama / Non-English

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