“Once upon a time, a king gave a feast. And there came the most beautiful princesses of the realm. Now, a soldier, who was standing guard, saw the king’s daughter go by. She was the most beautiful one, and he immediately fell in love with her. But what could a poor soldier do when it came to the daughter of the king? Well, finally, one day, he managed to meet her, and he told her that he could no longer live without her. The princess was so impressed by his strong feelings that she said to the soldier: “If you can wait 100 days and 100 nights under my balcony, then at the end of it, I shall be yours.” Damn! The soldier immediately went there and waited one day. And two days. And ten. And then twenty. And every evening, the princess looked out of her window, but he never moved. During rain, during wind, during snow, he was always there. The bird shat on his head, and the bees stung him, but he didn’t budge. After ninety nights, he had become all dried up, all white, and the tears streamed from his eyes. He couldn’t hold them back. He no longer had the strength to sleep. All that time, the princess watched him. And on the 99th night, the soldier stood up, took his chair, and went away.”
The above tale is told in a longstanding favourite film of mine: Cinema Paradiso. I first watched it about five years ago – around age 16 – and immediately found it to be one of the purest, faithful depictions of life through the screen. It follows the story of a young Italian child named Toto in Mussolini’s Italy – whose fascination with film and cinematic experiences triggers a lifelong friendship with his local projectionist: Alfredo. The tale is told through a retrospect – exploring Toto’s memories of childhood and adolescence, which together solidify the most faithful ‘coming home’ tale I’ve seen. I’ll avoid describing its intricate details, for they are ones that should not be described but rather watched. But I will say that it’s a film that changes depending on when and how you watch it. My first encounter with it was aged 16, when I was in a somewhat similar position to its central male – Toto – as a child. Young, happily settled in a familiar city but with a desire to move elsewhere and explore. I was also surrounded by a lot of people who wanted to remain settled without venturing further. In such an environment, this place can feel like the centre of the world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you leave, your entire perception can change. Five years on from first watching this film, I stand in a position similar to Toto again, this time surpassing adolescence. Certain factors arguably still stand for me (youth most obviously), but when I watched this film recently, I saw it differently. It’s astonishing how much one feels they can grow up in such a short period, if there is a transition to a new way of living.
I often talk about experiences in London (this blog only began when I moved here) but I don’t talk often enough about home. That’s most likely because now when I return, it feels a little different. It will always be home, but things, ties and people change. Like Alfredo says in Cinema Paradiso, “You leave: a year, two years. When you come back home, everything’s changed. The thread’s broken.” You don’t realise how strong that thread is until you leave. But discovering it to be broken isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for it shows you have developed outside a bubble that so many aren’t willing to leave, and that some return to when they don’t enjoy that feeling of the unknown. I’m only 21 now, so this feeling is likely to grow even more depending on where I end up. Right now I’m constrained to feel in tussle a little, because as a student, there’s still some form of hold on your childhood. If you’re like Toto (I definitely am), you want to see as much of the world as possible. Hopefully I will. Why am I talking about this now? Because it’s the festive season, and therefore a sentimental period (we all feel it a little!). So it’s the time to think about what you’ve achieved to this point, and what you’re striving for the following year. I have a few things on my list for 2018.
But back to the story I’ve quoted at the start of this post. It’s recounted by Alfredo as a mode of advice for teen Toto who is falling in love for the first time. At the time he reads it literally, as a result standing outside his desired lover’s window for nights on end. It grabbed my attention from the moment I first watched the film, because there was no explanation of it. ‘He almost had her, so why did he leave?!’ I wondered – sixteen and dreaming and hopeful. But what does it really mean? That question is in part answered in the film when a matured Toto gives Alfredo his interpretation following deep thought. “In one more night, the princess would have been his. But she also could not possibly have kept her promise. And it would have been terrible. He would have died. This way, however, at least for 99 days, he was living under the illusion that she was there, waiting for him.” There’s a level of sympathy for the soldier in this story, but at the same time, it’s ending feels more real. It should be viewed with hope; we’re always growing and there’s always time for more.
I wish you all a wonderful festive season ahead. With that in mind, if there’s a time to watch this film, it’s now more than ever. Sentimentality has peaked, so why not indulge yourself in a faithful depiction of growing up? If you’re around my age, I hope it brings you as much fulfilment as it does me. If you’re younger than me, you’ll view it through the mind of Toto, as you should during that developmental stage in life. Watch it a few years later and it’s likely you’ll see it differently. And if you’re older than me, you’ll probably resonate even more. I’d like to know how it sits at an age elder than mine, so drop me a message if you watch it. If you have any other film recommendations for this time of year, I’d love to know. Here’s to a Merry Christmas and hopeful New Year.
Handbag: Fairfax & Favor
Jumper: J.W. Anderson
Trench Coat: Pop Boutique
Dress: Blitz Vintage