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Paradise Lost:

Censorship and Hypocrisy

in the Italian film Cinema Paradiso

Cliff Pearson

The University of Texas at Tyler


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I love movies. I especially adore those films with an artistic, literary quality that is

timeless and classical. In my experience, Italian movies seldom fail to evoke such feelings in me,

and Cinema Paradiso was no disappointment.

This heartwarming story about a little boy’s love affair with movies, and his subsequent

coming-of-age in the repressive environment of ecclesiastical censorship and hypocrisy stirred

great emotion in me, as I expected it would. The young Toto made me feel his awe as he

attempted to see the forbidden film images hidden from him by his friend Alfredo at the behest

of the town priest.

The issue of censorship ran deep throughout the film. I believe censorship can actually

provide a valid function in a community in some circumstances and situations, such as the

protection of children from harmful imagery, literature or speech. Pornography, for example, can

and should have its availability limited only to consenting adults. Falsely holding oneself out to

be someone else, fraud, is also certainly not a protected form of free speech and should be

censored.

As a staunch civil libertarian, I have always believed that communities should set their

own standards on censorship as much as possible. However as Rosenblatt (2002) points out in

his persuasive essay about Cinema Paradiso, without the neutral and objective oversight of

outsiders – such as the United States Supreme Court – even well-intentioned censorship can

become repressive.

Even in the movie, little Toto’s friend Alfredo felt that the local priest’s strictures were

repressive. He told Toto, “You leave [the village] or you will never find your life in so narrow-

minded a place.”
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The priest’s attempts to protect the town from movies’ love scenes were presented in a

comical manner in the film, and certainly they were ridiculous, but not only for the way the

scenes were produced. The censorship struck me as hypocritical and nonsensical if viewed as

necessary to protect the morality of the community.

For example, very early in the film we see young Toto stealing peeks into Alfredo’s

projection booth. The boy sees many of the very scenes he is not supposed to be seeing. Later, he

views by candlelight some of the frames the censor/priest demanded Alfredo remove from the

films. But Toto does this in full view of his mother who seems more concerned with the fire

hazard Toto creates than in his viewing of forbidden imagery. Clearly the priest’s attempts to

protect Toto from the sordid scenes were ineffective.

In at least one place in Cinema Paradiso, the omitted kiss scene was followed

immediately by violent slapstick comedy. The teacher at Toto’s school severely beat and

emotionally abused a young man named Boccia because he was poor at math. Toto’s mother

physically abused Toto when she discovered he had spent the milk money on movies. In both

cases, it seemed that no one had any problem with physical violence, even against children.

Frequently in the movie several men in the audience laughed and jeered at the missing love

scenes in the movies they were watching, knowing exactly what was missing from the film.

It struck me as hypocritical that a community would see fit to strike scenes of love –

kissing – from movies (even though everyone knew exactly what was being struck) while having

no problem with actual physical violence.

Lastly, I found it hypocritical that this town’s people would publicly vilify a family for

being nominally “Stalinist” or “Communist” while ignoring the actual Stalin-esque repression in
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their midst. The scene in which the people wanted very much to see the movie playing at the

Cinema Paradiso, but were turned away, was a good example of this.

The filmmakers clearly wanted to portray the inappropriateness of the town’s hypocritical

censorship and repression because they gave us such powerfully symbolic clues. As a result of

Alfredo’s defiant act of projecting the movie into the street for the people, he inadvertently

started a fire that burned down the old theater and cost him his sight.

The man who defied the censorship of the town, symbolized by the refusal of the

cinema’s owners to allow people in the street to see the film, and who provided them the vision

of the movie (and Toto’s vision of becoming a filmmaker) – lost his vision. And his vision he lost

in a fire, an intense symbol of purging, repression, or censorship.


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References

Cristaldi, Franco, and Romagnoli, Giovanna (Producers), & Tornatore, Giuseppe (Director).

(1988). Cinema Paradiso. [Movie]. Italy, Miramax Films.

Berardinelli, James. (2002, 1996). Cinema Paradiso: A Film Review by James Berardinelli. Top

100 All-Time. Retrieved June 5, 2007, from IMDb.com.

Rosenblatt, Roger. (2002). The Art of Possibility: Eassayist Roger Rosenblatt Considers the

Impact of Censorship. Online Newshour. [A Newshour with Jim Lehrer Transcript].

Retrieved June 5, 2007 from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/essays/jan-june02/censor_1-

30.html.

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