It is a terrible thing, to grow up. Not to grow old; to grow up. There is a beauty to childhood, a sort of shiny velour, that is irrevocably and irretrievably lost once one starts to be an adult. And we can try to reclaim that, but it is inevitably dull, tired, worn – perhaps no more so than when we were children, but the difference is that now we can see it. Or perhaps, still more tragically, it is worn and tired in a different way, so that we have nothing to reclaim and nothing to search for at all.
Nuova Cinema Paradiso is many things, but it is most of all an honest, brutal look at what it means to grow up. Growing up doesn’t mean figuring it all out; it also doesn’t mean figuring nothing out. It doesn’t mean that you lose everything, gain everything, or even know what you have in the first place. Growing up, the film says, merely means that things happen, and that you may or may not have a hand in their occurrence. It is not neat, it is not elegant, and loose ends are rarely tied up. Life is a series of threads that meander along, with us trying desperately and futilely to tie them into a knot or at least make some sense of the mess.
Okay, so why is this such an amazing film? Well, on the most superficial level, it absolutely refuses to take the easy way out. [SPOILERS – this is more of a love letter than a review] It would have been laughably easy to have Salvatore become a jerk, particularly to Alfredo, as he entered his teenage years, to get him the girl, to sprinkle the movie with loud emotional moments. But NCP resolutely did not do that, instead taking the more nuanced, complex route in its depiction of the protagonist. The best thing I can say about this movie is that it allows you to trust it – by the end, I was beginning to have a shadow of a doubt, beginning to wonder whether the movie would be able to top what happened shortly before the end. But then, almost as if just to prove me wrong, NCP delivered what is quite possibly the most elegant, satisfying, perfect and beautiful movie endings I have ever seen.
What else is there to say? The film is gorgeously shot; my inner cinematographic geek was squeeing with glee the entire time. It handles humor, hopelessness, surprise, joy, and tragedy with equal grace, and often allows them to complement each other in the same scene. All of the actors are marvelous, with the three portraying Salvatore in particular achieving a beautiful continuity within the character, even to the last shot. Nuova Cinema Paradiso understands and appreciates details, and the audience appreciates this dedication.
I’ve taken five years of Italian, and so I’ve watched a great deal of Italian movies. It seems like an astonishingly large number of them are attempting to be Nuova Cinema Paradiso. All of these movies fail. I don’t like to bandy the term “perfect” around (even I will admit that Moulin Rouge does have some flaws) but I would use it in reference to this movie. Every emotional note is hit exactly, every cinematographic line drawn just so. It is very rare that I watch a movie which gives me chills, a movie which represents reality so perfectly so as to depict it better than real life itself could. Nuova Cinema Paradiso is such a movie, and I am still in utter awe at the sheet art of that film.