Page 43


Autobiography at the Bijou BY STEVEN KELLMAN CINEMA PARADISO Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore NUNS ON THE RUN Directed by Jonathan Lynn CINEMA PARADISO is the name of the only movie house in Giancaldo, a small town in southern Sicily. It might as well be called Inferno, as it is consumed by flames, or Purgatorio, as it is a theater of unfulfilled desire. Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso has the structure of nostalgia, an extended flashback to an irretrievable past that, even when present, was as elusive as the shadows flickering on the local movie screen. When middle-aged Salvatore di Vitto and into his posh apartment in Rome, the young beauty occupying his bed relays a message from home that Alfredo has died. Salvatore spends most of the night, and the film, recalling his childhood in Sicily and, more essentially, in the movies. No, he was no Shirley Temple, but Cinema Paradiso was his secular temple and the academy for his sentimental education. From his earliest years, young Salvatore \(played with wide-eyed the theater’s projection booth and charms its kindly, lonely steward. Projectionist Alfredo becomes a mentor to the fatherless Salvatore, and, though his advice is often lifted verbatim from the soundtracks his job has made him memorize, Salvatore nicknamed “Toto” feels almost as close to Alfredo as he does to John Wayne, Jean Gabin, or any of the other celluloid personalities who are more real to him than the father who never returns from World War II. One exuberant evening when Alfredo turns his projector onto the town square so that everyone can see the drama, the reel catches on fire. Cinema Paradiso burns to the ground, but Toto manages to save Alfredo, though the master projectionist loses his sight. When Nuovo Cinema Paradiso rises out of the ashes of the old one, Toto, though still in grade school, is appointed to project its films. Blind and proud, Alfredo sits in the booth beside his best and only pupil. The passage of years into the 1950s is Steven Kellman is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas in San Antonio. registered by the newsreels and changing casts and styles of the movies Salvatore shows. Now an adolescent \(played by Marco love at the end of a lens. It is through the lens of a movie camera that he is learning to shoot that Salvatore captures newcomer Elena ager, arriving in Giancaldo. Following an extravagant courtship borrowed from a movie script, Salvatore and Elena become inseparable … until they are separated by her father and Elena moves to another part of Italy. Thirty years later, Salvatore goes home like Kirk Douglas in the movie Ulysses, which he had shown one lustrous summer night. \(Note how his mother, like Penelope, undoes her knitting as she meets him at the infatuation with cinema, Elena, and Alfredo. Alfredo is being buried, NuoVo Cinema Paradiso has been out of business for six years, and Elena can be found nowhere but on the frames of film Salvatore made so long ago. Time has taken all, the world that lived so richly in Toto. “Don’t give in to nostalgia,” warned Alfredo the last time Salvatore saw him alive. “Forget us.” And he does, for 30 years.. Intent on a more auspicious destiny for the young man, Alfredo makes Salvatore promise to leave their little town forever. Aside from the fact that he is now some sort of “big shot” in the movie industry and that he has never married, we never learn much about Salvatore’s life today in Rome. What sort of films has Cinema Paradiso prepared him to make, and what sort of relationships has the memory of Elena spoiled for him? To the extent that Tornatore has admitted an autobiographical basis for Cinema Paradiso, the movie is a surrender to nostalgia, but it is one that most viewers can condone. Not every movie-maddened moppet grows up to be Francois Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, or Giuseppe Tornatore. But anyone who walks into the dark to see a film has not yet grown up and out of a benign madness. Much of the appeal that Cinema Paradiso offers to any moviegoer is its celebration of moviegoing. As evoked by Tornatore, going to the village Bijou in the age before TV was a raucous, joyous communal experience, more akin to live theater than anything available in today’s multiplexes. Tornatore turns his camera on the audience lovers necking, mothers nursing, an old man snoring, young men masturbating, and Salvatore always gazing, gazing. “Life isn’t like in the movies,” warns the blind seer Alfredo, in a movie. “Life is harder.” Cinema Paradiso does not, and cannot, even by imitating The Purple Rose of Cairo, step off the screen into “life.” But the movie world it depicts is hardly soft; it is not only a lost world but a world of loss. The local priest diligently inspects each movie sent to Giancaldo and ensures that every cinematic kiss is sliced away. The legacy that Alfredo wills to Salvatore, and that is the lovely climax to Cinema Paradiso, is a can of old snippets, a huge montage of excised kisses. What saves this film from being a sentimental advertisement for itself is its plangent reminder that moviegoing is always incomplete, like life. IN A DISSOLUTE age, where irreverence is the final piety, nuns, like New Jersey or hemorrhoids, become auto matic jokes. It is all right to knock a nun as long as you do not get into the habit. What is most offensive about Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All, Nunsense, and other exercises in sororicide is that they are so sanctimonious in their travesty. One longs for the clean, courageous heresy of Martin Scorsese or Salman Rushdie. Created by a few Monty Python alumni, Nuns on the Run, whose title is not a reference to clerical colic, is as subtle and witty a challenge to the Church as smearing Saint Peter’s portals with 95 feces. If the sight of a bibulous nun or a lecherous priest is not enough for mirth, writer-director Jonathan Lynn resorts to another venerable comic shtick: transvestism. Imagine two gruff gangsters masquerading as nuns, and you can probably imagine most of the other gags that Lynn manufactures for his farce. an obnoxious young crime lord named Casey, bemoan the current state of felony; there is no more honor among thieves, or even a pension. They plot to get out of the business before suspicious Casey can retire them permanently. Assigned to rob a clique of Chinese drug dealers called the Triads, they take the money for themselves and run, into a nearby convent, where they hope to elude two gangs and the police by disguising themselves as nuns Sister Euphemia of the Five Wounds and Sister Inviolata of the Immacu 22 APRIL 6, 1990