Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nuovo cinema paradiso

Many years back, when I had seen the film L’Armeé des Ombres, I had thought I would never see such a film again. But I was young, the mind was fickle, I had not seen the world and experienced first-hand the emotions, and I only remember the impression that I got, not the film, I only remember the smell of the paint, not the paint.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the film I watched only last week, was a different experience. That film taught me “love,” if it is something which can be taught and as far as it can be taught. The film was such a beautiful poetry, a logical whole for that feeling called “love.” Love for life, that it was, yes, toujours.

First there is the mother – waiting. Why is she waiting? And then we see a middle-aged, worldly-wise-looking man, whose face is never properly focussed upon, who but we still guess is only sleeping with a woman who isn’t much to him or he to her. And there’s a mother waiting...

We could never’ve guessed that what a heart-rending, beautiful story lies behind, what a soul behind that calm facade of that man, a man who is still waiting, who never left hope in spite of life. He never left Alfredo’s side – so persistent, so charming! He had to learn all his tricks, he had to immerse himself in all the wonder, in all the love that he felt, without caring for the world. The films mystified him, and he could never see them as the others saw them – they were not just “reels” and “business” to him. This is the whole essence of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso – hope. The soldier who waited in rain and snow and cold nights 99 times did not wait for the hundredth time – yes, you can say that he was not hopeful, who will be in such a hopeless case as love for a princess? Yet, he had the audacity to tell the princess. And he had the wherewithal to keep the hope alive, to always think that the princess waited for him. This is the essence of the film, the movies themselves.

Cinema is not just entertainment, meant for you to take your girlfriend just to spend time with her or your kids just to give you some relaxation and sense of realised power. No; it’s so much more. It’s the means of hope, the means of having illusions and nightmares, something through which we can really escape reality. It’s the virtual paradise – paradiso.
Yes, Toto was born with the vitality of hope and love, which is seldom there in people (even if originally present, it gets lost somewhere down the line). Toto would also have lost it, if not for Alfredo. It was the theatre projectionist Alfredo, who in the way he understood best, took hold, complete hold, of Toto’s (Salvatore, from now on, let’s call him) life. Stopping not short of anything, Alfredo even became the villain of the romance, just so as to inject a pain in Salvatore’s life which he could never forsake, and hence which would always prompt him for searching, for greater things, for finding love and meaning in life. Yes, Salvatore in that search became a great director, but he never was successful in his search, finally. He had loved too deeply, he had loved truly for once.

Salvatore would never leave his first loves throughout his life. All those scenes cut out by the parish priest and now bequeathed to him by Alfredo, those scenes he half-hidingly knew in his childhood, the scenes he enjoyed when the audience was shocked to find them cut – he loves them more than any of his own films probably, scenes in themselves worthless, mere snippets of kisses and nude bodies from various sources brought together, but laden with so much baggage of remembrances, with so much loving memory.

As is the usual case with French & Italian films, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is a film lovingly, caressingly shot, to every frame of which the director seems to cling to up until the last moment, a film shot with so much detail. Witness the scene when Salvatore returns from his unfruitful watch outside Elena’s window; the gaiety elsewhere brings out his pain so sharply – bottles crashing out of the windows to dark streets where Salvatore is the lone, dejected walker.
The director’s cut is a 173 min version, and rightfully so. It brings out the film as it was meant to be: it gives ample scope to Toto the child and Salvatore the man. The man who always brimmed with energy and daredevilry, and still does so, the man who could charm an audience, a princess, and even a projectionist.

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