“Films were a time machine... a wonderful spaceship that allowed you to know the world without going to look for it.” Listen to this kind of blather from almost anyone else and you’d be dismissing it as arty bollocks before you even stretched for the ‘off’ button. But when Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore starts spouting off about the power of cinema on the documentary A Dream Of Sicily, you never question that he believes what he says. After all, only someone who fully buys into the transformative power of those flickering projected images could ever make a film so steeped in nostalgia for the days when they first came across them.
You get both versions of Tornatore’s love letter to cinema here: the 123-minute theatrical cut that came out in 1988 and the 170-minute Director’s Cut he originally wanted to release. The pair’s basic structure is the same – amber-hued flashbacks to successful movie director Salvatore’s days as first angelic urchin Toto (Salvatore Cascio), growing up in and around his Sicilian village’s cinema, and then his time as a love-struck teenager (Marco Leonardi). All of which means that the best moments – the solid-gold relationship between the young boy and Philippe Noiret’s grumpy old cinema projectionist (whose funeral the adult Salvatore returns home for) – are present in both.
The longer version beefs up the character and darkens the tone, making for an arguably more adult movie, but it’s not necessarily a better one. The purer, more childlike innocence of the shorter cut somehow seems more fitting. And never more so than now, just months after Noiret’s off-screen death.
Given the two-discer that came out in 2003 also boasts both versions of the film, the question is this: is it worth upgrading? The answer’s a clear yes. For a penny less than 20 quid this package also throws in Ennio Morricone’s score (the CD of which accounts for one of the discs) and a bonus spinner equipped with three docs that often fascinate and rarely dip below the level of ‘interesting’.
A Dream Of Sicily is the longest at 52 minutes. Mostly focusing on Tornatore’s early life and the troubled history of Sicily, it gets a bit bogged down in sentiment, but offers an intriguing look at the parallels between the real-life filmmaker and the fictional Salvatore. A lot shorter, but just as effective is The Kissing Scene featurette. Kicking off with Tornatore explaining where he got the idea for the now iconic reel of film at the heart of the movie’s magical, bleary-eyed climax – made up of all the kissing scenes that the village priest demanded be snipped from movies before they were screened – he then shows the scene with subtitles explaining which film each snippet originally came from.
The most surprising, however, is the 26-minute Making Of, A Bear And A Mouse In Paradise. This isn’t because its on-set stories are particularly hair-raising (though there’s a certain sweetness to Noiret’s memories of his child co-star demanding he stub out his trademark cigars). No, the shock comes when they interview the now twentysomething Salvatore Cascio. Forever locked in your memory as the sweet-faced Toto, any raging fires of nostalgia are almost doused when you see him as a cocksure adult complete with tinted glasses, trendy leather jacket and pierced ears. That’s just wrong in so many ways...