What any reasonable person really sees is a man in the final throes of true psychological repression as he tucks away the horrible realization of his exploitation and replaces it with gleeful nostalgia.
Supposedly a film about the love of cinema, this Oscar-winner for "Best Foreign Film" is actually a treatise on how Italy is rather adept at violating child labor laws.
You see, we're supposed to think that it's romantic and sweet when Salvatore shows interest in the film booth where the grouchy Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) shows films in the small Italian town's only theater. Suddenly, there's a fire. Alfredo can't work. What does the theater owner do? Yes, he puts the young kid to work, exploiting his love of film to avoid hiring a real employee at a real wage.
The story is actually a flashback from the older Salvatore, who's now a successful filmmaker. Though he remembers those days fondly, he's never returned to the town, much at the behest of Alfredo, who wanted him to get away. When Salvatore does finally leave, it's as much to pursue a dream as it is to escape the painful memories of his lost love, Elena.
Salvatore returns to the town following Alfredo's death. Apparently, we're supposed to believe that all these fond memories of a great childhood come flooding back to him and he rediscovers a love of life. Of course, what any reasonable person really sees is a man in the final throes of true psychological repression as he tucks away the horrible realization of his exploitation and replaces it with gleeful nostalgia.
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