I was 17 when I first saw Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, and though I don't put too much stock in my adolescent leanings, the film's shameless sappiness and romantic nostalgia sparked a lifelong fascination with Italian culture and with the movies. In fact, Cinema Paradiso captured the power of the movies for a generation of cinephiles, and it may just do the same for those who missed it — or were too young to care — when it nabbed the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film back in 1989. Although most recent film reissues — Apocalypse Now Redux, E.T., Amadeus, and Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, to name a few — have seemed superfluous, including only a few extra scenes salvaged from the cutting-room floor, Cinema Paradiso: The New Version contains 51 additional minutes and enough fresh material to warrant a second screening.
Told primarily through flashbacks, most of the first half of the film remains the same, but this digitally restored version revives a character cut from the original and fleshes out an abandoned story line, making the new edition one of the most noteworthy such releases since Ridley Scott's 1993 Blade Runner: Director's Cut. A famous director, Salvatore, learns of the death of his old friend Alfredo, which prompts him to remember his childhood in a tiny Sicilian village where the local movie theater, the Paradiso, became his second home. The center of communal life and the place where unspoken desires and forbidden emotions took form, the movie house united folks of all shapes, sizes, and ages.
The additional scenes — the teenage Salvatore, or “Toto,” losing his virginity in the theater to an older woman; Toto professing his love for his childhood amore, the beautiful but elusive Elena, over the telephone, only to find out he's been chatting up her angry mother — all take place after the dramatic scene of the fire that burns down the original Paradiso, and they change the film from a PG to an R rating. More significantly, they change the focus of the central love affair from one with the movies to a more traditional romance between the two star-crossed lovers.
Toto's friendship with Alfredo, the middle-aged projectionist of the Paradiso, is still important in the restored version, but it's his infatuation with Elena that becomes the new focus. In the original, Elena disappeared with little explanation, but the reissued Cinema Paradiso reunites the two as adults, when Salvatore returns to the village after a 30-year absence to attend his friend's funeral. In a touching confrontation of the past, Salvatore and Elena have one last, illicit kiss. It's a bittersweet meeting between two adults who have wasted their lives loving the wrong people, and it echoes the gift Alfredo bequeathed to Salvatore: a film reel of the censored screen kisses removed from the movies played at the Paradiso in the past. A teacher even after his death, Alfredo and his gift remind Salvatore that no matter how important and touching the cinema can be, it's no substitute for real life.