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Paradise Found in UCI's Potpourri

October 06, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition.

Following "Angel Heart," the bloody horror-mystery that launched UC Irvine's fall film series last week, with "Cinema Paradiso," the gentle Oscar-winner screening Friday night, is like following a scream with a whisper.

While Alan Parker's messy but often fascinating "Angel Heart" is all about rude provocation, Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" is all about the tenderest of provocations. It's as if the organizers of UCI's "Cinema Potpourri" series wanted to first rile the nerves, then calm them back down.

Winner for best foreign-language film for 1990, Tornatore's movie can feel like a sedative. There's so much reaching for soothing epiphanies in the story of Alfredo, the bearlike projectionist in an ancient Sicilian movie theater, and Salvatore, his young friend and later apprentice, that you get drowsy after a while. Sentiment is "Cinema Paradiso's" reason for being, and Tornatore never strays from providing it.

But within their small tale, which draws in, however tangentially, several others in the fishing village where they live, there's also meat for dedicated movie lovers.

As we watch the relationship develop between Alfredo and Salvatore, nicknamed Toto, we also watch their excitement over the pictures shown in the Cinema Paradiso, a worn-out but still elegant theater. Passages from Renoir's social-realist classic "The Lower Depths" mingle with those featuring Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo and dozens of others from filmdom's Golden Age.

The weekly screenings are the town's highlight, bringing in everybody within miles. The upper classes sit in the balcony, even spitting at the noisy crowd of blue-collar workers, fishermen and prostitutes below. But the pictures unite them, as they unite Toto and Alfredo. Tornatore's message about the shared experience of art, especially popular art, is distractingly obvious but joyous nonetheless. "Cinema Paradiso" is a movie easy to forgive, simply because it's so pleasurable.

Tornatore also wins us over through the details. The opening sequence, in which we're introduced to Alfredo (played with a bellowing goodness by Philippe Noiret) and Toto ( Salvatore Cascio), shows the local priest gasping at the kissing scenes in "The Lower Depths." With a violent ring of his bell, he signals Alfredo which passages to edit out.

Later, a man screams during the butchered movie that he's never once seen a kiss on screen, sending the audience into a fit over the censorious nature of the Catholic Church. Still later, that first passage echoes in the final, remarkably effective epiphany as Toto, now well into middle-age and a successful TV director with doubts about his emotional resources, has to face what he's become as a man.

* What: Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso."

* When: Friday, Oct. 7, at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

* Where: The UC Irvine Student Center Crystal Cove Auditorium.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south to Campus Drive and take a left. Turn right on Bridge Road and take it into the campus.

* Wherewithal: $2 to $4.

* Where to call: (714) 856-6379.


Florence: Portrait of a City

(NR) The art capital of Italy is featured in this film that screens today, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Arts, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana. Part of the Italian festivities to celebrate Columbus Day. Free with museum admission of $1.50 to $4.50. (714) 567-3600.

Sleepless In Seattle

(PG) Tom Hanks plays a Seattle widower whose young son gets him to express, through a call-in radio show, his feelings about his wife's death. A reporter (Meg Ryan) falls in love with him after hearing him. Through the son, the two eventually meet, even though they live across the country from each other. The 1993 film, directed by Nora Ephron, screens Friday, Oct. 7, at 12:45 p.m. at the Cypress Senior Center, 9031 Grindlay, Cypress. Public welcome. (714) 229-6776. FREE

Aguirre: The Wrath of God

(NR) A crazy conquistador takes some men away from Francisco Pizarro's South American expedition in 1560 to search for the seven cities of gold. This 1972 German film, directed by Werner Herzog in the Amazon, screens Monday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. in the Davis Center Lounge at Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Part of the Latino Heritage Month Celebration. (714) 997-6761. FREE

The Cat and the Fiddle

(NR) Jeanette MacDonald plays a singer harassed by a composer, played by Ramon Novarro, in this 1934 musical directed by William K. Howard with a score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. It screens Wednesday, Oct. 12, and Oct. 14 at 12:45 p.m. in the Cypress Senior Center, 9031 Grindlay St. Public welcome. (714) 229-6776. FREE

Incident at Oglala

(PG) Robert Redford co-produced and narrated this film that re-examines the evidence against Native American Leonard Peltier who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The film screens Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. in the UC Theater at Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Part of Latino Heritage Month. (714) 773-3371. FREE

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