Cinema Paradiso

Mention the topic of foreign films to some people, and you may elicit a wince or frown. They think of hard-to-decipher films such as Bergman’s Persona (1966), austere films such as Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964), or confrontational films such as Fellini’s Satyricon (1969). Add in the difficulty of reading the subtitles, and you don’t have to travel far to find film fans who avoid anything foreign.

Fortunately, there are many foreign language films that are eminently approachable. They’re warm, upbeat, and easily digested. And truth be told, the approachable ones are often as good as the more demanding ones. In my opinion, Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) is as fine as (1963). But why choose between them, when you can savor both?

This brings us to Cinema Paradiso (1989). You would have to be hardhearted not to be touched emotionally by this film, yet it’s much more than a warmhearted story. It’s nostalgic not just for a way of life that had disappeared, but also for a style of filmmaking that had grown out-of-style. Ennio Morricone’s excellent musical score intensifies the experience, as it strikes the right mood in just the right places. Not surprisingly, Cinema Paradiso won the 1990 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

As good as the 124-minute theatrical release is, the 174-minute re-edited version is even better. You’ll have to rent or purchase the DVD to see the longer cut, which is more complete than the original 155-minute Italian release of the film. While all three versions are centered on the relationship between a young fatherless boy and a solitary movie projectionist, the newer version spends more time with the boy as an adult as he searches for Elena, his lost love.

Given the 124-minute running time listed on the TCM website, it looks like HTCM will be showing the theatrical version. Don’t worry about not seeing the longer version first, as the theatrical version stands up well on its own.

Cinema Paradiso
(1989; directed by Giuseppe Tornatore; cable, dvd, & blu-ray)
List Price: $9.99

Thursday, December 12 at 8:00 p.m. eastern on Turner Classic Movies