Nuovo Cinema Paradiso [1988)

One of the greatest of all time.

I wasn’t sure I could handle the flood of emotions this film was bound to trigger.

But I went for it.

And it is, truly, a masterpiece.

Essential viewing.

In the U.S. we know it simply as Cinema Paradiso, but I wish to honor director Giuseppe Tornatore by reviewing it under the Italian title.

This film is full of fear and regret…because it is reminiscence.

Gone long from home.

Many years away from family.

Moreover, there are few films which portray a pure love for cinema quite like this one.

What we have is a mentorship.  Alfredo, the mentor…and Toto, the mentee.

There are so many magical shots…so many jewel-like devices of cinematic deftness which make this picture truly special.

When I was a young man, this film taught me the potential of cinema.

And my fear at the time was losing my past.

But now that I have, by the grace of God, returned to my homeland, my fear tonight was reimmersing myself in the beauty of misery.

Or the misery of beauty.

In accounting, they teach you to ignore sunk costs.

But the human psyche still yearns for the one that got away.

We analyze our past decisions.

We lament our judgement.

But the costs of love, the economic costs of love (the totality of what was at stake) cannot be so easily dismissed.

Maybe it was not meant to work out.

But there are some very painful, lonely yearnings which age us like a bottle of scotch.

Perhaps our pain will be someone’s joy.

We cannot live with a “letter never sent”.

But a letter never answered can be so indescribably mournful.

And so we have come back.

Having tried our luck and worked our hands to the bone.

And we praise God for the opportunity to see Alfredo again.

The whole family.

It’s a trade-off.

And lost love still leaves us wistful.

Maybe we don’t understand the reverse culture shock we have been battling.

For several years.

Maybe we are yet too young.

To see our homeland with eyes of clarity.

This is what Philippe Noiret tells Marco Leonardi.

You’re not old enough yet…to be here.

Noiret is really the star of this film.

With his big mustache.  And his close-cropped hair.

The projectionist.

But none of this would have been possible without the child.

Toto.  Salvatore Cascio.

His impish smile.  His hunger to learn.

We see a filmmaker in the making of himself.

And while Jacques Perrin is quite special as the grown-up Toto,

there is one key personality I must touch upon.

Agnese Nano.

This actress changed my life.

And I fell in love with her understudy.

Perhaps years later I did the same again.

Those blue eyes always kill you.

But it was when I first saw this.  In 1998.

I fell in love.

And it didn’t work out so well.

It was too much.

Ill-fated.

Romeo and Juliet.

I felt I was lower-class.

I had no confidence.

It is these things which we regret.

How a word could have been different.

How a revelation might have changed history.

But we praise God for Pupella Maggio.

Thank you, God, for your blessings.

This film has made me very emotional.

Because it is a masterpiece.

And we shall sail on.

Into the night sky.

And remember how Ennio Morricone guided our every blessed footstep in our Garden of Eden.  Over paths encrusted with tiny diamonds here and there…which would catch the reflection of the moon.  We walked the path the best we could.

-PD

Amarcord [1973)

This film contains everything.

As in, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

It is truly vast like the sky full of pebble stars.

There is no translation for Federico Fellini’s masterpiece Amarcord other than “I remember”.

Ah, good God:  memory!

I immediately think of George Stevens’ paean to family I Remember Mama (1948) and, of course, the king of memory Marcel Proust.

But this is Italy, not France.  And Remembrance of Things Past is a “bad” translation.  More accurate is In Search of Lost Time.

And that is exactly what Fellini is doing here.

Trying to reclaim the past.

Remember this?  Remember that?

It is, I am guessing, a conversation with himself.

A rumination.

It is a small town (or at least it feels that way).

And we have everything.

A blind accordionist straight out of Tom Waits’ dreams.

A femme fatale by the name of Gradisca (“take what you want”).  [Played by Magali Noël.]

We miss the translation now and then.  Perhaps the Romagnol dialect?

That explains our title Amarcord.

I remember.

“Jadis, si je me souviens bien…”

A season in hell.

From hell.

And yet a season of beauty as well.

Uncle Teo (Uncle Uncle) says it best…up a tree…over and over and over and over again:

Voglio una donna!

Voglio una donna!

[like John Lennon writhing in pain on “Mother” or “Cold Turkey”]

Voglio una donna!

“I want a woman!”

Each incantation different.

The 42-year-old Teo up a tree…on a day out in the country…on leave from the asylum.

And a dwarf nun makes it all better.

It’s not what you think.

When you look at the cover for the film, is says SEX SEX SEX.

Sure, there’s sex.

But it’s very matter-of-fact.

This isn’t a film with gratuitous nudity (only one brief nude scene).

Sex is woven into the film.

It’s alright to talk about sex.  1973.  Italy.

Fellini is a big shot by now.

It is art.  It is life.  It is artistic expression.

Everyone is portrayed lovingly.  Everyone is subjected to the same pimple-precise criticism.

Films don’t get any more real than this.

HOWEVER…

Fellini introduces an element of magical realism here and there.  [The magic is due in no small part to Nino Rota’s shimmering soundtrack.]

Sure, it serves as a bit of a distancing technique (Brecht?)…a defense mechanism, perhaps.

This material is too raw; too personal.

It is TOO sad!  One has to laugh because of how sad it is.

And that is the tragicomedy which lived on in the great Roberto Benigni’s comedies and the grand-slam of naïveté:  Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.

And so, to understand these latter-day…saints(?)…we must examine the old masters.  We must get used to saying Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (the real title)…because cinema is barely a hundred years old, really.  And so, we must look to Fellini as akin to Giotto.

Pros-pet-ti-va!

We get so many perspectives here…

It’s one of the few times AMPAS has gotten something right.  This film.  Oscar for Best Foreign Language.  1974.  Look at the list.  Lots of misses.

Back to Amarcord.

Beauty goes away.  The big fish in the small pond.

But the blind accordion player endures.

Vulpina (Josiane Tanzilli) the nymphomaniac fleshes out the family portrait.

Ah ah ah…

It’s no use.

This film is all about detail.

There is no use recounting the endless assortment of fascinating characters who make this thing go.

You will just have to see it for yourself.

For all of its pithy naturalism, it is really a touching film.

Fellini gets every little detail right.  Such a formidable picture!

 

-PD

 

 

El espíritu de la colmena [1973)

I have wanted to bring my readers this film for some time.

Therefore, it is an honor to review The Spirit of the Beehive for you.

I first saw this film by chance one night on TCM long ago.

I don’t remember the exact chain of events, but it was either right before seeing this or right after seeing this that I found out I was going to Spain (the country of provenance of this film).

The opportunity to visit Spain was a miracle (as have been all my travels).  Never did I think I would see La Sagrada Família.  Never did I dream of seeing the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  These things were too much to dream.  But they happened.

And this film is the quintessence of that miracle experience.

Two little girls.  Ana and Isabel.

The sonic motif throughout this film is the name “Isabel” whispered by her younger sister Ana.

It is an entreaty.  A putting faith in someone.

Please tell me why this, and why that.

Few films have matched the magic of this one.  If you are a fan of Cinema Paradiso, this film will show you where that template originated.

Before the great Giuseppe Tornatore, there was the equally great Víctor Erice (auteur of the film under consideration).

There is a magic here which is akin to Amélie and also Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  It is a naïveté befitting of Erik Satie…a wonderment which is rarely expressed effectively in film.

For more modern viewers, the best parallel might perhaps be Beasts of the Southern Wild (on the soundtrack of which I had the honor to perform with my old band).

And so there you have it.

Bees, bees everywhere.  Like Mercury Rev…”Chasing a Bee Inside a Jar”…and “Syringe Mouth” (‘here you come dripping from the hive’).

The hum.  The drone.  Like a subway screeching through the turns in a New York subway tunnel.  And the honeycomb.  Like DNA.

I should add.  A certain sadness.  Like a tawny port.

It was only fitting that this film was kicked to the curb for me, the poor-man’s Henri Langlois, to find at this particular time.

And so I too whisper the name Isabel.  Isabel with your hair pulled back behind your ears.  Don’t be cruel.

 

-PD