“Cinema Paradiso” – Life as a Censored Movie Screening

Cinema Paradiso


Title: “Cinema Paradiso”

Release Date: 1988

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Cast: Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, Pupella Maggio, Antonella Attili, Agnese Nano


Giuseppe Tornatore’s Oscar-winning work for Best Foreign Language Film, “Cinema Paradiso”, is a hauntingly beautiful, nostalgic tale of the friendship between an adolescent Toto and a provincial cinema operator named Alfredo. The relationship, which determines the whole life of the main character, as well as the history of the local art establishment, allow to put in a nutshell the transformation of post-war Italy and the history of cinema. The key to this story, however, turns out to be not what we see on the screen, but what has been hidden from the eyes of the audience. After all, only censored screenings are held at Cinema Paradiso.

“Cinema Paradiso” is one of the most important works in Giuseppe Tornatore’s oeuvre. The film is structured as a sequence of memories of the main character, a well-known Italian director named Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who one evening receives a phone call from his native Sicily with the news of the death of a certain Alfredo. Together with the man, we go back to his childhood in post-war southern Italy, where as a boy named Toto, orphaned by his father for several years, he leads a poor life with his mother and sister.

The only entertainment in the small town is the cinema, which the protagonist sneaks into every evening to watch movies, but also to peep at the work of the cameraman operating the projections. Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), soon befriends Toto. The man becomes for the growing boy a substitute for a father, but also a wise life guide. On his advice, Toto decides to leave Sicily and build his future elsewhere. Years later, as a well-known and respected personality, he returns to his hometown to attend his friend’s farewell. It turns out that Alfredo left a mysterious package for him before his death.

Cinema Paradiso movie review

“Cinema Paradiso” – the history of cinema and Italy

“Cinema Paradiso” is a multifaceted movie. What comes to the fore here, of course, is the immense love for cinema that shines through from almost every frame. The story becomes a synopsis of the history of film and its evolution from silent moving pictures to colorful dynamic spectacles with exciting scenes driving the audience almost to a heart attack. Tornatore shows excerpts from landmark works, such as Luchino Visconti’s films and And God Created Woman with Brigitte Bardot. The director also points out what he believes is the most important function of cinema, which is to offer viewers a temporary escape from everyday life and the hardships of life. The cinema, not coincidentally juxtaposed in many scenes with a local church, even seems to take on the traditional role of religion, offering the audience a foretaste of paradise on earth. A movie screening here, like a Christian mass, is a collective spiritual experience.

At the same time, we get a glimpse of Italy’s post-war history in a nutshell in the changing images screened at the Paradiso cinema, as well as in the evolving interior design and political sympathies of the audience. Local deals, petty business and mafia plots appear in the background.

“Cinema Paradiso” – a story about growing up to create one’s own destiny

“Cinema Paradiso” is also a coming-of-age story. Toto, overcoming the successive steps of initiation into the work of a cinematographer, at the same time turns from a teenager into an adult man. He experiences great love and erotic fascination with the beautiful Elena (Agnese Nano), who is the figure of the ideal woman, impossible to conquer. Her next incarnation in Tornatore’s work will be Malena played by Monica Belucci.

The initiation into adulthood, nonetheless, also has a collective dimension in the film Kino Paradiso. It’s a maturation to certain ideas and an opening to otherness. For, as Alfredo will tell you, in order to understand one’s own times and the place in which one lives, distance is necessary, and this can only be provided to the protagonist by leaving Sicily. Wise Alfredo even orders Toto to leave the province, which, he says, when you live there, seems the center of the world, but only leaving it for many years allows you to look from the outside and see what is most valuable, but also disastrous.

Cinema Paradiso 1988 film analysis

Escaping from the Sicilian town enables the protagonist to find his own unique path and reject following the beaten paths of others. Tornatore shows maturation as a painful process, which, in order to be completed, requires at a certain point to disavow one’s heritage, as it were; in order to rediscover it later and see it in a completely different light. This advice from Alfredo allows Toto to develop remarkably – for instead of the fate of an ordinary provincial cinematographer, a great career as a director awaits him. However, this contrast also has a momentous symbolic dimension: from someone who merely reproduces other people’s works Toto turns into a creator of his own films, but also a creator of his own life.

“Cinema Paradiso” – censored screening

All these levels of meaning of “Cinema Paradiso” (the history of cinema, the history of the country, the history of individual coming of age) overlap in one important place, namely in the motif of censorship of films screened in a provincial cinema. This is because each public screening is preceded by interference from the local parish priest, who orders the removal of all erotic scenes, even the most innocent kisses, from the images. In this way, the public is given access to blemished works, which it accepts with resounding disapproval. When Salvatore returns to his hometown after thirty years, he finds that Alfredo has left him a mysterious gift. It is a cobbled together film tape with a whole set of censored scenes. The final sequence of displaying this collage is one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of cinema and is often read as a love confession from the director himself to the Tenth Muse.

Nevertheless, it seems that the closing of “Cinema Paradiso” is much more ambiguous. It can also be interpreted in the context of the life of the main character, who returns to Sicily years later to face his past and confront his childhood complexes. Here we are dealing with a truly Freudian motif. The screening itself in Tornatore’s movie has a psychoanalytic dimension – the screen stories are therapeutic tales. However, the therapy will be successful only when a person reaches the deepest layers of his own history, when he dares to look at what his psyche has so far repressed.

The censorship of the films here thus corresponds to the censorship of his most intimate, often painful experiences and most burning desires. Salvatore, as a mature man, watching the film sequence left to him by Alfredo, confronts in reality what he himself has excluded from the “film about himself.” This censored sphere in his life turns out to be love, because although he has achieved almost everything, this is sadly lacking. It is no coincidence that just before the love scenes, shots of his beloved from his youth appear on the screen. “Cinema Paradiso” is therefore a great movie about what matters most in life and how cinema can help us get there.


Kino końca wieku, pod red. T. Lubelskiego, I. Sowińskiej, R. Syski, Kraków 2019.