Wanaka is a strange little town. One of the great vacation destinations on New Zealand’s South Island, Wanaka still retains a small town vibe making it a great place to explore. It seemed as if there was something a little strange and always unique tucked away beyond every bend. One such place is where I found myself encamped one evening, the Cinema Paradiso.
Named after Tornatore’s great film, the café also shares a certain sense of sentimentality and whimsy which the great Italian filmmaker portrayed so well. Everything somehow feels familiar and comfortable. Depending on the season and the day of the week, there is usually one or two movies playing every night, although it’s typically never the same one twice. Sometimes the films are first runs, other times not, but that’s not really why you go to Cinema Paradiso. Here it’s all about the experience.
When you visit, make sure to also block off enough time for dinner, as this is a fully functioning café in addition to being a movie theater. You can’t take the entrees into the theater itself, so be prepared to eat before or wait for intermission. Yes, they have a real, honest to goodness intermission. God I love this place.
Pizza was my choice that night, and the generous sized pie was the perfect accompaniment to the chilly evening outside. As I finished up, I queued to enter the theater with about fifteen other patrons, but when I walked in I stopped cold. Even though I should have expected it, I was once again surprised by this little café/theater/hangout spot. Rather than finding rows of movie theater seating, I instead gazed around at loveseats, sofas, even a refurbished car from which to choose. If one of the old couches seems a little thin, there are stacks of extra cushions available for anyone to use.
At intermission I filed out with my fellow Paridisians and was met with the final surprise of the evening, homemade chocolate chip cookies available for purchase, hot and gooey fresh from the oven. These weren’t just any cookies though, they were mega biscuits, larger than a hand but well worth every calorie ladened morsel.
The movie was fine, not the best nor the worst I’ve ever seen. But that’s not really why I was there. I was there for the Cinema Paradiso experience and to see what it feels like to actually enjoy the movie experience for once.