I expected to hate Cinema Paradiso a few minutes in. I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps the “ain’t-I-a-stinker” grin of Salvatore Cascio, playing young ‘Toto,’ the film’s protagonist? Or maybe it was the syrupy silliness of early scenes involving an exasperated priest censoring films of any “pornographic” kissing scenes.
Little by little, the film won me over. Cinema Paradiso is steeped in sentimentality to the point of schmaltz, constructed as a sine wave of feel-good into feel-bad moments. Nonetheless its emotion resonates thanks to sweeping, sunny cinematography and a moving score from Ennio Morricone. By the time an outdoor cinematic presentation took a dramatic turn, I was convinced. When the conclusion arrived, with ‘Toto’ – Salvatore – now a successful director filled with nostalgia and regret, watching those “pornographic” clippings, it was impossible to not be moved.
Sentimentality is so often reduced to sappy drivel or audience manipulation. But Cinema Paradiso demonstrates that raw, unfiltered emotion isn’t anything to be belittled when executed with such talent. This love letter to film understands that movies are truly successful when they surpass plot and character and cinematography to connect on a fundamental, emotional level with their audience – as Cinema Paradiso did with me.