Giuseppe Tornatore

Giuseppe Tornatore

As he began to earn notoriety, Tornatore caught the attention of producer Franco Castaldi who nurtured what became the director's breakthrough film. When "Nuevo Cinema Paradiso" opened in Rome in 1988, it met with a less than stellar reception. The director, who favors long takes, worked under Castaldi's prodding and guidance, to cut and reshape the material. The new version debuted at the 1989 Canned Film Festival where it was met with high praise and picked up a Special Jury Prize. A sentimental but powerful paean to the power of the movies set in Tornatore's hometown, "Cinema Paradiso" depicted the odd friendship between a movie-loving boy and the projectionist at the local theater. Audience around the world responded positively, particularly to its tour de force final sequence of censored clips, and the film went on to win numerous awards and prizes including the 1989 Academy Award as Best Foreign-Language Film. "Stanno Tutti Bene/Everybody's Fine" (1990) proved a slightly disappointing follow-up, however. Trafficking in the director's now trademarked sentimental style, the movie revolved around an aging widower (well played by Marcello Mastroianni) who decides to visit his children and learns that each has been lying to him about their lives. While the intriguing premise of depicting a parent's aspirations for his children offered great potential, Tornatore tended to dilute its power by focusing more on the landscapes of his travels and "Everybody's Fine" was deemed a failure. After contributing a segment to the anthology film "La Domenica Specialmente/Especially on Sunday" (1991), the filmmaker returned to his native area to teach aesthetics at the University of Palermo. Resuming his film career in 1994, Tornatore wrote, directed and edited the fascinating, if eccentric, thriller "Una Pura Formalita/A Pure Formality." Dropping his usual sentimentality, he instead focused on a cat-and-mouse game of interrogation between a police inspector (Roman Polanski) and a suspected murderer (Gerard Depardieu). While the setting was mostly held to a poorly lit room in the local police station, the director managed to make the proceedings interesting not only through his expert editing and fluid camera movement but also by eliciting strong performances from his two leads.Slipping back into his usual style, Tornatore next fashioned "L'Uomo delle Stelle/The Star Maker" (1995), what many see as a companion piece to "Cinema Paradiso." Returning to the Sicily of the 1950s, the titular character is a con man who preys on the hopes and dreams of villagers by pretending to be a talent scout. Complications ensue when an aspiring actress stows away in his van and the pair embark on a romance. Ravishingly photographed by Dante Spinotti and featuring a lovely score by Ennio Morricone, Despite some mixed reviews (which felt the film was more travelogue than compelling drama), it earned a 1995 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film.For his next major film, Tornatore turned to a one-man stage monologue for inspiration. A modern fable about a musical prodigy who spends his entire life on board the ship on which he was born, "The Legend of 1900/La Leggenda del Pianista sull'Oceano/The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean" marked Tornatore's first English-language film. Lushly scored by Morricone and starring Tim Roth as the adult musician, it debuted in Italy with a running time of nearly three hours. Critics hailed several of the set pieces (most notably a piano duel between Roth's character and Jelly Roll Morton, played by Clarence Williams III) but felt the overall narrative was too slight to handle the epic-like treatment afforded. Even in its US debut in 1999, with nearly an hour cut and a new title ("The Legend of 1900"), many still felt the simple story was overblown.