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:: Malena

Malena is the latest film by Award-winning Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso). The film works as an affecting coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of Fascist Italy. The year is 1940 and the setting is the picturesque town of Castelcuta in Sicily. Thirteen-year-old boy Renato Amoroso (Giuseppe Sulfaro) is experiencing his first major crush when he sees Malena Scordia (Monica Bellucci). She is the daughter of a teacher Professor Bonsignore (Pietro Notarianni) and has come to the town to care for her father while her husband is away at war.

The war is raging but the young and old men have their eyes and desires on Malena, a beautiful, statuesque woman. Renato’s fascination with her leads into a series of usual youthful pranks, which are entertaining. They include stealing a pair of her panties from the clothesline plus constant masturbating. A scene where his hard-nosed father has an exchange about his son’s body parts is hilarious, and knowledge of the Italian language is needed to appreciate the true understanding. We see the life of this woman through the eyes of Renato as he comes to terms with manhood. He learns a great deal about human frailty and courage, with the wartime events to reinforce the idea. Malena arouses the scorn of local women who wish to spread rumours of her sexual habits. Much is told by just the visual images that Tornatore provides. Malena doesn’t utter many words to convey the feelings of the town and of the time. Her daily walk across the piazza shows a quiet pride that will later turn to despair.

The story is not just about Malena’s physical well being and Renato’s sexual awakening. They both represent traditional Italian social and gender relations, as well as the political effects of Mussolini’s dictatorship then. Things change for Malena when she receives word of her husband’s death and that her father has been killed during an Allied bombing raid. With nobody to protect her virtue, Malena is an obvious target for sexual predators.

Malena is victimised on occasions with one instance being a local merchant wanting sexual favours in exchange for foodstuffs. She must survive, and finds that prostitution is her only means. After the arrival of the Nazis, she consorts with a German officer, in behaviour that shocks the town. This eventually leads to despairing times for Malena. Renato watches her humiliation passively. She is vulnerable and the film moves into darker matters, before shifting into an unexpected ending.

Again, Tornatore has the services of the great Italian composer Ennio Morricone who provides a poignant, melodic soundtrack that shows all the classic and romantic elements of a trademark European score. The instrumentation is perfect for war-torn Sicily and for the bittersweet story of Malena.

It’s a beautiful, intelligent film where Tornatore directs with a fine sense of period detail and with a great eye for warm, sensual images. He guides young Giuseppe Sulfaro, as Renato, to a humorous and affecting performance. For most of the film, the elegant Monica Bellucci only needs to be on camera for the impact she creates. Despite the small amount of dialogue, she says much with her exquisite movement and purposeful manner. She is up to whatever task is demanded though, and proves again what a fine actress she is. The sublime work by Tornatore and his cinematographer ensures viewing of Malena. With a terrific human story and great score, it is highly recommended.

Screening at Cinema Nova, Cinema Como, Classic Cinemas and Brighton Bay Cinemas