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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/11/03

Cinema Paradiso: The New Version
1988/2002 (2003) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Cinema Paradiso: The New Version Film Ratings (New/Original): A-/A+

Video Ratings (New/Original): B+/B-

Audio Ratings (New/Original): B+/B-

Extras Ratings (New/Original): D-/F

Specs and Features

Side One - The New Version
174 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 enhanced, DVD-18 dual-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 3 promo trailers (for Malena, The Star Maker and Amélie), film themed menu screens, scene access (38 chapters), languages: Italian (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Side Two - The Original Version
124 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 enhanced, DVD-18 dual-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), Amaray keep case packaging, film themed menu screens, scene access (35 chapters), languages: Italian & French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Love is defined by its naturally inherent capacity to possess. Once it has claimed its host, it secures that place by anchors. It can direct lives and actions, create new paths or, if not dealt with, can become a scourge. And that's the premise of Cinema Paradiso. Directed by Guiseppe Tornatore, the film explores the multi-facets of love and examines romance and loss, friendship and fatherhood, and the all too frightening reality of irreversible change. And it does all of these things while also projecting a genuine appreciation for the medium of film.

Told in flashback, the story involves the growth of Salvatore (Salvatore Casio), also known as Toto, through three periods of his life. As a youngster in the village of Giancaldo, Toto develops an intense love for the movies. He finds every way to he can occupy a seat in the local movie theatre - a church that pulls double duty and thus serves the spiritual and emotional needs of the villagers. But Toto's real desire is to gain access to the projection room. In his first visit, he manages to irritate the projectionist, Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret). But he also secures a promise concerning the excised romantic portions of film, which are considered pornographic by the town's priest and are thus censored.

Through persistence and charm, Toto gains a surrogate father in the projectionist and the two become inseparable. Eventually, Toto grows into a young man (played by Marco Leonardi) and falls in love with a local girl. She's filmed from afar by Toto as he becomes a budding filmmaker. A series of events transpire to alter these relationships - change which also can be seen in the village as a whole. Toto is bothered by this, so Alfredo encourages him to leave and move on to greater things. But when he returns to Giancaldo much later in life, Toto (now going by the name Salvatore, as played by Jacques Perrin) discovers that even greater change has occurred, and that no amount of time or distance can prevent this.

Cinema Paradiso is all about change. It examines the sad truth that we can never go back to what we once knew. But there's magic here as well. Magic in the celebration of film is the vehicle that drives this story, the original version of which won an Oscar in 1989 for Best Foreign Film.

The new version, released in theatres for a limited run in 2002, is expanded by some 51 minutes. It addresses a number of issues that were unresolved in the U.S. cut, specifically dealing largely with the mystery of Elena. While some of the new footage is interspersed throughout the film, most of it comes at the end, effectively adding another element to the overall story. But while the new material does elevate the story to a higher level, not every scene is a necessary one. There are moments where the added footage is disrupting (particularly those dealing with useless sexual encounters), and serves only to steal from the poetic elegance of the original U.S. theatrical release. This is a case where less is actually more in many ways. I definitely prefer the original cut.

Both versions of the film are included on this DVD release, placed on separate sides of a single DVD-18 disc. And both are presented in anamorphic widescreen. While they're not at the quality level of many newer films on disc, both transfers are very good overall. There's light dust and other print artifacts visible on occasion, and you will notice moderate film grain. But the later is part of the character of the film itself. And the colors exhibited here are nicely accurate and vibrant, bolstered by excellent contrast and detailed blacks. Whichever version you watch, you'll discover a wonderful visual experience, particularly if you're already a fan of this film.

On the audio side of things, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is presented for the new version of the film, but only Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround is available for the original cut (the tracks are provided in Italian and French for the original, but the cut is Italian only). Obviously, the new 5.1 mix is superior, but not so much that you won't enjoy the original version. This is not a sound-effects heavy film, so the advantage of 5.1 is largely atmospheric. What benefits most from the new mix is Ennio Morricone's score for the film. The music stands alone in its sweeping grandeur and is effective in every moment. Born on a central theme, the rest of the score, with little exception, are variations of the same melody. But it's the manipulation of that basic tune that is so effective.

Unfortunately, the extras for this set are very disappointing. There is nothing but a trailer for the original version of the film, along with promo trailers for two of the director's other films (Malena and The Star Maker). There's also a trailer for Amélie, which I suppose Miramax hopes you'll like too. But that's it. For a film of this stature and visibility, surely there could have been an audio commentary track. The lack of anything else here is somewhat disappointing.

Cinema Paradiso represents a high mark in film for me personally. It's long been included among my top ten favorites, and I'm delighted to be able to revisit it in such quality. While this DVD release could have been more "special", the benefit of having the new version of the film here as well is enough to satisfy me. Whichever version you prefer, Cinema Paradiso is filled with beautiful imagery and possesses a rare psychological and philosophical depth. It's a cinematic delight that every serious fan of the medium of film should experience.

Matt Rowe
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