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Featured Blu-ray Review: Cinema Paradiso and Life is Beatiful

October 3rd, 2011

Cinema Paradiso - Blu-ray Buy from Amazon
Life is Beautiful - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

This week, Lionsgate is releasing two Miramax films on Blu-ray: Cinema Paradiso and Life is Beautiful. Both were lauded by critics at the time of their releases, but how well have they stood up all of these years later? Also, do they shine on Blu-ray?

Cinema Paradiso

The film begins with a woman trying to call her son, Salvatore Di Vita, a famous film director. She has trouble tracking him down, but leaves a message with his girlfriend that Alfredo has died and that the funeral is tomorrow.

With that we flashback to when Salvatore was a child living in a small town in post-World War II Italy. We meet him as he's trying to take part in a church service as an alter boy, but ends up falling asleep. He's tired all of the time, because he spends his nights at the Cinema Paradiso, the local movie theater, which is run by the owner / head projectionist Alfredo. Salvatore is not just there at night watching movies, he's there during the day. He sneaks in to watch the films in secret while the local priest does, so he gets to see the films before the priest orders some of the scenes cut. He is completely obsessed with movies and even keeps some of these trimmed scenes to look at at home. At first the pair have a bit of a contentious relationship, but soon Alfredo becomes a father-figure to young Salvatore, who lost his father in the war. He even teaches him how to run the projector, after Salvatore shows promise.

However, his childhood comes to an abrupt end when the Cinema Paradiso catches fire. Salvatore is able to rescue Alfredo, but the older man is badly burned in the fire and is blinded as a result. One of the citizens of the town, Ciccio, had recently won a large sum of money on the lotto and rebuilds the theater, calling it Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, and despite only being a child, Salvatore is made the projectionist, as he's the only one who knows how to operate the machine. Fortunately by opening night Alfredo can sit with Salvatore while he works. But he tells him while this might seem like a dream job, he is destined for greater things.

That's when the film flashes forward to Salvatore as a teenager and we get a hint of what those greater things might be. Salvatore has begin filming movies, as well as showing them in theaters. But one day he meets Elena, the daughter of a rich banker, and instantly falls in love. But her family is rich and his is not, plus there's the whole destined for greater things. Will he continue his dreams of becoming a famous director? Or will love win out?

Considering what we saw at the beginning of the film, we know the result. However, it's still a good place to stop lest we spoil too much. And the film is certainly worth seeing for yourself. The movie does an amazing job of showing a coming of age story for the young Salvatore and the young love story when he was a teenager. It also shows how the movies were a central part of life for the town, just as important as going to church. We see the town and its people change over the years. (There a couple we see meet, get married, and have a kid without ever hearing them speak.) I've seen some argue that the film is emotionally manipulative, and there is an argument there to be made, but I think even if you accept that argument, the film is still worth seeing. It's a love letter to going to the movies, and fans of movies should love it too.

The Extras

There's the theatrical trailer, which I don't even consider an extra. As for the film's technical presentation, it looks really good for a low budget foreign film made more than 20 years ago. The level of detail is good, but not great, especially early on before the flash back starts. A lot of the film takes place in a darkened movie theater, so there are some issues with shadows swallowing details. But there are other scenes that take place outside and in the daytime that are great. The audio is solid with clear, but uncomplicated. Uncomplicated is an understatement, as it is in mono. Lastly we get to the price, which is just $10.49 on Given the lack of extras or visual flair, this is an acceptable price.

The Verdict

It's disappointing that this is the shorter version of Cinema Paradiso and that the Blu-ray has no extras, but for fans of foreign films, its still worth picking up.

Life is Beautiful

Roberto Benigni starred in and directed many movies before making Life is Beautiful, but this is the film that made him a worldwide success. It earned more than $200 million worldwide, seven Oscar nominations, three Oscar wins, not to mention countless other awards. Sadly, he hasn't been able to return to that former glory. But have the years taken a toll on this film as well?

The film takes place in two parts. It's hard to talk about the second part without giving away too much of the first. But you can't really talk about the overall plot of the film without talking about the second part. The film begins in 1939 with Guido Orefice and Ferruccio Papini driving into Arezzo, Italy. After a short delay due to problems with their car, they arrive just in time to scare away three thugs who are attacking his uncle, Eliseo Orefice. Guido wants to open a bookstore, but after a run in with a civil servant, the civil servant declares Guido will never have his bookstore. Despite this, he remains optimistic. Before arriving in town, he met a woman, Dora, and discovers she is a schoolteacher in Arezzo, he tries to woo her, which is difficult, as Dora's mom is against any relationship. He is Jewish, she is not. She is rich, he is not.

This is where spoilers for the first part of the film come in. Guido does win her love and they get married and have a son, Giosuè, but her family cuts her off for several years. It isn't till its the day before his son's fourth birthday that his mother-in-law visits for the first time. The reunion is a short one, as the next day the Nazis come for Guido and Giosuè. Since Dora is not Jewish, she is spared, but demands to be taken with her family. Once in the concentration camp, Guido convinces Giosuè that they are playing a game and if they are the first to get to 1000 points, they win a tank. Guido has to try desperately to save his son while at the same time preventing him from learning where they are and what the real consequence of being discovered would be.

There are two films here, the first a romantic comedy with a fast talking man winning his way into the heart of an upper class woman. This is something we've seen many times before, but it works, for the most part. But when the film moves to the horrors of World War II, it's less successful. The key to this film is Roberto Benigni's performance and whether or not you accept his slapstick / pantomime comedy, especially when the plot takes its darker turn. I remember liking the film the first time I saw it, but this time the comedy fell flat. I think when it was first released, his performance was fresh and the subject matter was daring. Now without the novelty, the combination of comedy and tragedy doesn't work as well. It's still a good movie, but in my opinion, it's not worthy of three Oscars.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD is a 23-minute long making of featurette. It's not much, but it is better than nothing. The Blu-ray does look better than it ever has on the home market, but the image is still softer than one would like on Blu-ray. Much of the movie lacks a strong color pallet, but one can hardly fault the transfer for that. The audio is clear, but mostly uncomplicated. There are some good uses of the surround sound speakers for directional effects, but it is mostly front and center. As for the price, $10.49 is an acceptable price to pay on

The Verdict

Given the subject matter in Life is Beautiful, the film could have been offensively bad. In fact, many critics accused it of being just that. On the other hand, the film won countless awards at ceremonies worldwide. My opinion is somewhere in the middle, but closer to the high end. The Blu-ray is shovelware, but the price is right and it is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Life is Beautiful, Nuovo cinema Paradiso