From Italy, With Love, From Tornatore : Movies: The director of ‘Cinema Paradiso’ has received offers from Hollywood, but nothing to woo him from his homeland.


“No movie business ,” director Giuseppe Tornatore interrupts his translator. “Il cinema . . . .”

Not the movie business. Movies .

This is, after all, the man who made “Cinema Paradiso,” his semi-autobiographical movie about the love of movies, all kinds of movies. Remember little Toto growing up in postwar Sicily, who fell asleep as an altar boy at Mass but crossed himself in awe before entering the movie projection booth?

“In two years, I lived everything that you can experience and meet in making a movie,” says the director, referring to the high of making a movie he was enthusiastic about and the low of having it turn out to be “un catastrophe or, as he jokes now, “un grandissimo flop in Italy. A flop, that is, until the film was discovered at the Cannes Film Festival and returned home in triumph.

Tornatore is not yet a name on foreign filmgoers’ lips the way Fellini, De Sica or Bertolucci is, but “Cinema Paradiso,” which won a surprise 1989 Special Jury Prize at Cannes and in 1990 took the Oscar for the best foreign-language movie, has quickly become one of the best-known--and loved--Italian films.


The film also gave him a calling card to Hollywood, but Tornatore isn’t sure yet how he will use it.

“I don’t know if I will be so famous,” he begins hesitantly in a West Hollywood hotel suite, but his face is a giveaway. Tornatore cannot suppress a smile; he is almost blushing. “If it would really happen, of course I would like.”

He says he has had a number of offers--”of course they (producers) are not (in) line to offer movies to me”--but nothing, thus far, that makes him want to drop everything and transplant himself here for two or three years.

Opening here Friday is Tornatore’s new film, “Stanno Tutto Bene” (“Everybody’s Fine”). Directed and written by him, it stars Marcello Mastroianni as a 74-year-old father. Saddened that his five grown children failed to visit him at his rented summer cabana at the beach in Sicily, he sets out in September to visit them.

He is Matteo Scuro, a retired civil servant who is certain that his three sons and two daughters, whom he has named after characters of lyric Italian opera, are too busy to visit because they are important people with “jobs that count.”

“The premise of the movie,” says Tornatore, “is the impossibility people have today to communicate in their private lives. . . . Today there is such sophistication of the technology of mass communication that it is very difficult for private communication.”


“Everybody’s Fine” also turns into a rather dark travelogue on life in Italy today: a subway mugging, homeless living in cardboard boxes, commuters wearing masks for smog protection, a stag deer blocking traffic while staring down autostrada drivers with what seems to be a grim grin.

Salvatore Cascio, the Toto of “Cinema Paradiso,” has a cameo role as Scuro’s eldest child as seen in the father’s imagination.

If you knew Tornatore just from his movies, you might expect a much older man. After all, “Cinema Paradiso” was told from the vantage point of a gray-haired director of about 50, and portrayed the grandfatherly projectionist (Philippe Noiret) with such heart. And now this movie.

Yet Tornatore is a compact man with warm, dark-brown eyes reminiscent of young Toto’s. The day he was interviewed was his 35th birthday, and he had just spoken to his mother by phone from Sicily, where his brother and three sisters still live. His father is a retired labor union worker. “In my family,” says Tornatore, the middle sibling, “we call each other every day. If one day we don’t call they know already something’s happened.”

Tornatore lives in Rome in a small apartment near the Vatican; indeed it is the same apartment he had before “Paradiso’s” success. Because of traffic and the inability to find parking, he sold his car and now gets around by bus.

Where “Cinema Paradiso” was magical, “Everybody’s Fine,” which he made before “Paradiso” became successful, is melancholy, its mood matching the chill of autumn during which the movie takes place. Tornatore nods.


“When I wrote the movie, I was thinking about changing my job because ‘Cinema Paradiso’ was a big catastrophe at the beginning, and I was desperate. I felt like I made a mistake in everything, a big mistake. People that I know were telling me, ‘Change your job. It’s good if you write movies, but don’t make them.’ So I probably put onto the new movie all the melancholy and all the problems. If I had to do this movie after the Oscar, I probably would not have made this movie. When I decide on a movie, there’s a very close connection to my feelings.”

Shortly after he moved to Rome in 1983, Tornatore was sitting in a restaurant--”by myself because I didn’t know many people. And there was an old man who was eating by himself across the room. He was really elegant in his simplicity. I asked the waiter who was this man? And the waiter said, ‘I don’t know but he seems like somebody that travels.’ He had a suitcase next to him.

“So I wrote something down because usually when I get some idea or something I’m curious about I just take some notes, and I always keep something in my pocket like a piece of paper or something. I was going to think about this old man and I was just like imagining, ‘How was the life of this old man, where was he going to go. . . ?”

Tornatore knew he wanted to make movies when he was 15 or 16, and started to think seriously about it when he was 20. In his teens he became a photographer and went on to win national awards. After several years making television documentaries, he received some acclaim with “Ethnic Minorities in Sicily,” which won the best documentary prize at the 1982 Salerno Film Festival.

His feature debut was in 1986 with “Il Camorrista” (“The Professor”), about a real-life Neapolitan who controlled a powerful crime empire--even from prison. That movie, never released in this country, starred Ben Gazzara.

“I think the film is one of the best gangster pictures ever made,” Gazzara said recently. “I could have killed the producer. I told him to shoot two versions. ‘You’ve got to have an English version. . . .’ ”

“After (‘Il Camorrista’) I was really a success but producers said, ‘People don’t go to the movies anymore so we don’t make much money anymore,’ ” Tornatore said. “They didn’t want to make movies in general. For about two years I was going around, trying to bring the producer some money (and was told) ‘No, the cinema fine , the movie business is finished.’ So my reaction was to tell (in ‘Cinema Paradiso’) how the movie business was before.

In Bagheria, a small town outside Palermo where Tornatore grew up, there were seven movie theaters when he was 9. There was one right next door to where he lived, and that’s where Tornatore saw his first movie, “Jason and the Argonauts,” by himself when he was 7. “Now there is only one movie theater in town,” says Tornatore, “and about a thousand in all of Italy.”


Television, videocassettes and American movies dominate Italian entertainment. “For example, ‘Dick Tracy,’ it took 300 movie theaters when it opened,” says Tornatore, “plus there were some other American movies. All the big American movies they go in 300 movie theaters, and (if) there are two, three American movies, they take the rest. There is no space for Italian movies.

“It’s normal that American movies are all over the world because they are so good at making these spectacular movies, (and) they are good in the business. They know how to promote. They know how to send their movies to the public. In Europe, I think they will never learn this. In Italy when a movie is released, it’s like a lottery.”

No wonder Tornatore wants to make movies here.

He says the offers started coming in just after the Oscar nomination, and have come in sporadically ever since. About a month ago in Italy, he had a meeting with an American producer. With a wave of his hand, he says he does not wish to provide details. Before returning home, he would “maybe only one night meet with somebody. I am very busy. I have so many (media) interviews.”

But that is the past movie, and the future is the next one.

“Si,” he says with a laugh. “I’m writing the next movie, and I have already an Italian producer--Cecci Gori. It’s an action/sentimental movie.” After that he has yet “another contract with another Italian producer (but) it can happen that somebody (in the United States) will give me a movie that I would really like so much . . . I could do something.”

Last summer, he was offered “a very nice movie but it was about American customs and it would be a movie I couldn’t do very well. It was a very good movie, a dramatic movie but it was (about) problems that (American) Indians have today. There was also something about their roots, their history. It was troppo Americano-- too much American.”

Tornatore says he is learning some English-- “Spero, I hope . . . I take some lessons but when I am here I start to learn a little more. The day that I will decide to make a movie, that day I will come here sometime before to learn the language.”

When things were going badly with “Cinema Paradiso,” no one in Tornatore’s family suggested he find another line of work.


“They always helped me when they think things are not going to be so good for me, and they try to calm down my enthusiasm,” he says, “when things are great for me. . . . My mother said that if every time you have a bad moment you are going to change your job, prepare to be ready to learn many jobs because you will change many times.

“And when I was successful they say, ‘Just enjoy your success, but don’t think it’ll be forever.’ ”

In “Cinema Paradiso” the director, who had a series of women friends, was supposedly too busy to find love. “I had many girlfriends before too, but now I have only one.”

While Tornatore’s lifestyle has not changed that much after the success of “Cinema Paradiso,” other things have.

“I have much less time for myself. Almost nothing. Otherwise my life is really the same,” he insists.

No house in the country?

“No, because in Italy I don’t make that much money. Our salaries are much lower for a director. Maybe in the future I get lucky, and I will make a lot of money. Then I buy a house in the country, a big place in Rome. The only difference for now is that maybe I have a few more white hairs.”