Note, this entry will have spoilers for both versions of the movie: the original and extended cut.
I loved it. On Kenton's recommendation, I bought the original version of the film, which is slightly shorter. I found the relationship between Salvatore (Toto) and Alfredo to be incredibly moving, and I found myself in tears during the final scene. In the original cut, the final scene was rather simple: Alfredo created a montage of all of the love scenes he had to cut, because Toto wanted them as a child. I felt it served as a reminder of his childhood, and all that he had left behind when he left town to create a future for himself. This version felt like a coming of age story, and a story of two individuals who love each other like father and son.
I viewed the extended cut today, and it complicates the original cut considerably. It adds another element to the young love story shared by Toto and Elena, the woman he loved when he was young. In the original cut, she simply disappears, he leaves town, and never settles down. The extended cut brings them back together while Toto is in town for Alfredo's funeral. He sees a young woman that resembles Elena, and through this, manages to be reunited with his long lost love. She reveals that her parents forced her to leave town suddenly, but she went to the Paradiso to say goodbye to Toto, and give him a way to contact her. Alfredo is in the projector room, and convinces her to disappear, and never speak to him again. "Out of the fire of love comes ashes" is what he said. Toto is destined to become a great director, and to be with him will only hold him back. Elena agrees, and leaves, only to write a note that Toto never finds. They make love that night, but nothing more comes of it.
Clearly the extended cut changes things. In this version, Alfredo is not portrayed as favourably, because he had a great hand in keeping Elena and Toto apart. One could argue that perhaps it was for the best, because he became a great director, and thus, a great success in life, but was it worth it for him...spending a life time waiting and wondering about the one woman he could ever truly love? The very ending itself is changed. Sure, what Alfredo created for Toto was still a sign of great love, but it felt almost like a taunt to me as well. I saw pain in Toto's (Jacques Perrin) eyes that I had not seen the day before. Watching scenes of true love on film, while knowing that the man who created this helped keep your true love from you...it just made the ending that much sadder.
Plus, finding out such a secret is a great way to tarnish the memory of the dead. It's a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that the man you thought of as a father convinced the woman you love to go away. I feel like the decision should have been Toto's, and that Alfredo shouldn't have meddled. So I suppose for that reason, I prefer the original version. It keeps the character untarnished. Plus it felt nicer just assuming that Elena was forced to leave by her parents and simply moved on, than knowing that they could have been together, but Alfredo meddled, and Toto never found her note. But at the same time, I really loved the more bittersweet tone that Alfredo's actions gave to the extended cut's ending.
All in all, excellent film!