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Cinema Paradiso review – glorious ode to the magic of the movies

The return of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1988 classic couldn't be more apt, reminding us that there's nothing quite like the big screen

If somebody were tasked with finding a full-proof method for reducing a person to tears, surely they might consider screening the final moments of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1988 film Cinema Paradiso. This iconic, near-classic romantic-drama, which won the Oscar for Best International Feature, is unashamedly sentimental in its approach, yet the subject matter makes it hard to resist. Namely, a jaded filmmaker looking back at his youthful obsession with – what else? – the magic of the movies.

Cinema Paradiso has long stood as something of an audience favourite, though it has divided critics. It's not often talked about as being quite a masterpiece and seems perpetually on the verge of fading from the public consciousness – perhaps because it lacks a recognisable lead star. The story takes place in flashback in a small Italian village in the aftermath of World War II, where young Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) is taken under the wing of cinema projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who inspires his student's lust for the cinematic experience.

At a time when cinemas are struggling to survive and we've been forced to imagine the possibility of a world without them, this film's reemergence feels particularly resonant. But if there were a film to reignite one's passion for the experience of watching a movie in an actual movie theatre, this one wins out. Streaming's fine, but can it compare to passionate and knowledgable staff, a whirring projector, the company of a rapt audience? And this new, 4K restoration brings the feature to life all over again, emphasising its gorgeous cinematography and thoughtful compositions.

The production design – especially that of the cinema itself – is gorgeously authentic and appealing, but maybe this story is made most memorable on account of the late Ennio Morricone's lush, unforgettable score – since repurposed as the music of countless award ceremony “in memoriam” sections. It's this score that has solidified Cinema Paradiso's saccharine reputation, perhaps. But to my mind it effortlessly captures the themes of nostalgia and love at the heart of this story, which – despite the romantic plot – is of course a love affair with the movies.

Cinema Paradiso culminates with a moving tribute to the power of cinema and human connection – a wordless montage of kisses cut from various films in order to adhere to the strict code of the era – tirelessly reassembled, we discover, by Alfredo and presented as a gift to Salvatore, who watches on, reduced to floods of tears. If you're not made a sobbing wreck by the time it's all over, there was probably no hope for you to begin with.

Cinema Paradiso is now showing in select UK cinemas.

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