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Latest release enlivens timeless ‘Paradiso’

Brian Doxtader | Thursday, February 22, 2007

Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 film “Cinema Paradiso” is a movie about the movies, made for movie lovers. A fondly nostalgic look at the power of the cinema in a small Italian setting, “Paradiso” originally opened to excellent commercial and critical reception, and it remains one of the cinema’s most beloved treasures. The film has just been re-released in a lavish Limited Collector’s Edition, which includes two different versions of the film.

Set in a sleepy village in Post-WWII Italy, “Cinema Paradiso” is the story of a boy named Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio), who finds refuge from the grim harshness of reality in the world of cinema. He befriends the town’s film projectionist, the curmudgeonly Alfredo, whose job is to censor all the “kissing parts” of films. “Paradiso” then jumps to an adolescent Salvatore (Marco Leonardi), who falls in love with the beautiful Maria (Antonella Attili), only to have his heart broken. Years later, an older and wiser Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) returns to his home village to say goodbye to an old friend.

“Cinema Paradiso” is a warm, memorable film with an excellent setting and warm performances. Coupled with a great score by the legendary Ennio Morricone (who also composed the scores for “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” and “The Untouchables,” among other classics), the nostalgic images hearken back to a lost age. Almost 20 years later, the film continues to resonate, which is a clear testament to both its cinematic grace and its timelessness.

The Limited Collector’s Edition is a well-made set that does justice to the film’s classic status. The film has already been released twice on DVD – once in its original cut, and once in the “new version” (or director’s cut) in 2002. This new set is comprised of two DVDs and a CD of Morricone’s score, along with some one-sheet and lobby card reproductions. The set also includes a pair of new documentaries: “Exploring a Timeless Classic,” which explains the impact that “Cinema Paradiso” has had on subsequent filmmaking, and “Little Italy Love Story: Cinema Paradiso Style.” The extras are worthwhile additions, but the film itself is the main draw to the package.

The second disc houses the original 170-minute director’s cut, which was originally released in America in 2002. Unfortunately, this is a case in which the longer cut is not an improvement, as it eschews the focus of the two-hour theatrical version, causing the film to drag at times. In some ways, it does enrich the development and depth of the story, especially in terms of character, but the overall pacing suffers tremendously. The original is superior, especially since it is this version of “Paradiso” that has become such a highly regarded classic.

Oddly enough, the picture and audio quality differ between cuts. Both cuts are presented in anamorphic widescreen, but the director’s cut looks sharper and cleaner (perhaps due to its more recent release). It also has a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, which sounds much richer and fuller, as opposed to the theatrical cut’s 2.0 Dolby Surround. Both versions are in Italian, with English subtitles.

“Cinema Paradiso” is a classic – a film that truly celebrates the movies. The Weinstein Company’s new edition immediately usurps previous DVD editions and renders them obsolete. It’s easily the best way to experience “Paradiso,” a film that will likely enthrall viewers for generations to come.