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1989: it’s not only a Taylor Swift album, but also the year that changed Giuseppe Tornatore‘s life. That much became clear when I sat down with the 58-year-old Italian filmmaker — who is best known for directing Cinema Paradiso, a semi-autobiographical film about a young cinephile which won the Cannes Film Festival’s grand jury prize and the best foreign language film Oscar in that final year of the eighties — last week at a hotel in Beverly Hills.
Tornatore was in town for only a few days, to preview a digitally-restored version of Cinema Paradiso at the Egyptian Theatre as part of AFI Fest on Nov. 10 (he was introduced by Danny DeVito and others in attendance included Al Pacino, Nastassja Kinski and Priscilla Presley) and as part of a delegation of Italian directors on hand for the 10th annual Cinema Italian Style event, which debuted an exhibit at the Italian Cultural Institute called “25 Years in Cinema Paradiso” on Nov. 13 that will run through Jan. 15.
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Over the course of a wide-ranging conversation — the entirety of which you can watch at the bottom of this post — the soft-spoken Sicilian spoke candidly about his early moviegoing habits; how his interest in photography and theater led him to filmmaking; the influence of Italy’s neorealist films on his decision to initially pursue documentary filmmaking; the importance of the late actor Ben Gazzara‘s bet on him for his first narrative film Il Camorrista (1986); the period of frustration after that film that led him to the idea for Cinema Paradiso (1988); the degree to which Cinema Paradiso is autobiographical; his approach for casting child actors in his films; his longstanding collaboration with the legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone; the poor reviews that Cinema Paradiso and several of his films received in Italy before finding better receptions internationally; the various edits of Cinema Paradiso (the original — now missing — cut, the Harvey Weinstein cut, the director’s cut, etc.); the way that Cinema Paradiso‘s success impacted his life and career, as well as the Italian cinema, thereafter; his follow-up film, Everybody’s Fine (1990), which stars the late Marcello Mastroianni; Malena (2000), which helped to make Monica Bellucci an international star; and what makes Sicily, his hometown and the setting for his most memorable films, such a special place.
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