Made in: Italy
Language: Italian
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Monica Bellucci, Giuseppe Sulfaro
Year: 2000

Synopsis: The year is 1941 and the war is raging. In a small, tranquil coastal Sicilian village called Montecuto, an adolescent boy named Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) experiences a sexual awakening when he spots a beautiful young woman for the first time.

The talk of the whole town, her name is Malena Scordia (Monica Belllucci). Originally an outsider, she came to Montecuto to be reunited with her husband Nico (Gaetano Aronica), an officer in the Italian army.

Turning heads wherever she goes, Malena becomes the object of desire of every man and the envy of every woman. As she passes by, the townsfolk are literally unable to take their eyes off her. Their whispers and comments are impossible to ignore, but as she goes about her daily business, she manages to maintain her composure with a quiet dignity.

Developing an innocent but passionate fascination with her, Renato begins observing her carefully from a distance. Soon, he discovers intimate details about the young woman's life. And believing he's developed a strange connection, Renato finds himself deeply sympathetic to her when she becomes a war widow.

However, the incessant gossip and crude lies surrounding Malena becomes downright slanderous, and as Renato enters adulthood, his fascination with the beautiful widow leads to many difficult life lessons about the cruel realities of war, jealousy, suffering, and love.

Remarks: It should be noted this film is very different from Giuseppe Tornatore's acclaimed Cinema Paradiso, which was released several years earlier. Nonetheless, Malena is a powerful, brutal, and humorous character piece.

Especially effective is the way the in which we experience life in Montecuto through Renato's point of view, and how we get a vivid look at the way an innocent kid fantasizes about his first love.

A deceptively simple story, it's amazing how Bellucci and Sulfaro convey a broad range of emotional depth through mostly subtle performances. Contrasted against the theatrical and nearly bombastic behavior of many of the peripheral characters, it's as though Tornatore is using the events of this little town to make a bigger point about the best and worst of human nature in general.

Like many foreign film dramas, this is one that makes you think hard. Other than the beautifully photographed scenery and outstanding, nuanced performances, Tornatore leaves much of the deeper meanings surrounding loss of innocence and romantic idealism up to you to interpret and discuss.

Who would like this film: I'd call this a good film seeing that it was very well-made, and at 88 minutes it's certainly watchable by anyone. However, I wouldn't recommend it if you're just looking for a fun, relaxing viewing experience. Many of the scenes are often sad, emotionally intense, or quite disturbing.

But this Italian film is definitely for you if you're a foreign film aficionado or the kind of viewer who loves deeper meanings and analyzing things. Full of clever and effective cinematic devices, there's plenty here to keep your brain busy.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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