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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cinema Paradiso, a Blast from the Past

There is nothing better than that feeling you get when you come across something from the past. I don't know, I guess this may be the appeal, the incentive, or maybe the lure, that makes people dwell in it so often, and sometimes indefinitely. Ranging from that once-in-a-while sweet, harmless nostalgia to downright pathological, disabling failure to progress, this feeling of familiarity and comfort found in one's past is probably, and to my experience, the reason why so many people struggle or fail to move on to new pastures.

The other day I tagged along with M. for a short DVD shopping trip. We were both flipping
through the monumental stacks of DVDs, and were ready to go home, nothing of note having been caught in our respective nets, when I heard the clerk making a recommendation to a girl (and a nice looking one at that!). I overheard: "you should try Cinema Paradiso..."

Instant flashback to 1990. I was eight years old, and we had just moved to a new place in Beirut. A brand new TV set, a brand new VCR and a nice VHS to christen it with.
Cinema Paradiso, an award-winning film by Italian filmmaker
Giuseppe Tornatore. I remember it so vividly; it was late, one of the first quiet nights in the post civil war era. The living room engrossed in the somber yet elucidating light provided by a solitary candle placed on top of a run down coffee table, I waited, anxiously observing the clock's every move, in anticipation because at midnight, we get to enjoy the luxury of electricity again.
I fell asleep on the couch, to be woken up at midnight by my mother, who was just as anxious as I was to watch that new movie.

Perhaps ironically, the theme of the movie circles around letting go of one's roots, of one's past and all that it entails, as it so powerfully follows the life of Salvatore di Vita, affectionately called Toto, as he morphs from that 5 year-old kid with so little on his mind, through a hormone-laden teenager, and into a grown man with aspirations to a career and success.
Always the sucker for blasts from the past, I jumped on that thing like there was no tomorrow; I drove back home in a daze, and the mere sound of the two words "Cinema Paradiso" brought my mom to tears. To say that watching this movie 20 years down this long road was an emotional experience would be a masterpiece of understatement. So many powerful scenes, and a theme and topic that remind me so poignantly of my own childhood, my own journey through life, proved to be nearly too much to handle. I guess that my having been through the experience of leaving home and loved ones behind meant that I identified with Toto in the movie.
Ironically, a movie riddled with nostalgia, departures, and separation from the past, has reunited me with mine in a way my clumsy words will never be able to describe.

Why so afraid of the past?