In Rome, Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) has received a message from his mother who lives in Giancaldo, Sicily. Turning his face away from the woman lying next to him, pretending to sleep, he begins reminiscing. He hasn’t gone back in thirty years. It’s time to return.
When he was a kid, everyone called him Toto. As an altar boy (Salvatore Cascio) he loved more to sneak into the town’s only movie theater than do his duties at church. The priest, who was also the censor-enforcer, used to pre-view the films to be shown later and signal frantically with the sound of a bell to the projectionist Alfredo (Phillip Noiret) all the objectionable scenes to be cut. This made Toto laugh while he watched hiding behind the theater curtains.
Cinema Paradiso was the place most people in town found their entertainment and social life. There Toto observed many diverse and picturesque characters just like in the movies everyone enjoyed, movies that showed no kisses (thanks to the priest). There, he pestered Alfredo for the cut pieces of film and hung around the projection room where Alfredo felt alone, overworked and underpaid. Toto found in him a father figure (his real father never returned from the war) and when a tragic accident happens, a teenager Toto takes over the projectionist job with a reluctant Alfredo by his side.
One day Toto falls in love with a girl whose parents are rich and don’t approve of their relationship. Elena (Agnese Nano) is moving away with her family and Toto is been drafted into the Army. The lovers agreed to meet one last time at Cinema Paradiso, but everything conspires against this, even Alfredo.
A year later, Toto comes back. All his letters to Elena back in his hands. Alfredo tells him to go away and stay away in Rome, do not remain in the island like everybody else.
Thirty years later, Toto, now a famous movie director, returns home to find out about Elena and receive a gift the old man left for him before he died.
This beautiful film is a moving homage to an era when movies where events shared by families and whole communities as one. This definitive version of the story as intended by director Giuseppe Tornatore is a much more accomplished masterpiece than the originally released with 51 minutes less. It’s an inspiration to movie lovers all over the world.