Critics have not been kind to “Empire of Light,” the film about cinema. Sam Mendes’s film is not a “Cinema Paradiso” redux nor, I think, does it aim to be, but comes across as a more unequal treatment of what the medium gives us and has always given us, this immediate entry into our dreams, the world as we see it, remember it, as it affects us, the images that in certain films become so iconic as to define us to ourselves and sometimes make us see ourself within certain parameters. But then, not everyone has the eyes of Federico Fellini, the memories of Carlos Saura, nor can necessarily compete with the movie going experience of 125 years. But this story dedicated to the glory that is film still had me shaken with the realization that even a flawed film that misses a clear narrative or well-made points on racism, mental illness, or the sense of futility that grabs us in the most difficult moments such as stories that don’t go anywhere after a promising start, still have the power to pull us in. So much so that when the lights came on, this critic’s question was, is there anything more potent than cinema? Is there, beyond a story not quite well told, a feeling, an emotion, an identification with characters whose existence we ignored until just a few moments ago?
The not always flattering comments of critics give a rather tattered image of Sam Mendes’s film but to me, the realization, large enough and up for discussion, could be, is there anything more important than cinema? “Empire of Light” gave me that realization or at least a thought to ponder as to what this medium does, what it has done so far, how what we receive in that theater affects us, stays with us and in the best cases, which “Empire of Light” does occasionally touch that our life up there, on that screen, is also simply our life or a good part of it. Or at least that’s how this forever cinema lover sees.