Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Review by Matt Heffernan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sometimes, a director wants to make a film about a beautiful woman. That's it, really -- nothing more. Beauty can be plot, if it is rich enough. Guiseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, The Legend of 1900) has tried to show that beauty can even be a curse.
In a small Sicilian town during World War II, a teacher's daughter named Malèna (Monica Bellucci) has people talking. Soon after she moved to town, her husband left for war, and the gossips say that she's sleeping around. They have no reason to spread these rumors other than jealousy of her beauty. When her husband is reported to be killed in Africa, they say she is now a whore. The rumors are so powerful that she is ostracized and unable to support herself. Her only option is to actually enter the profession, which doesn't help matters.
Her tribulations are seen through the eyes of young Renato Amoroso (Giuseppe Sulfaro). Malèna is his introduction to puberty when he first sees her at age 12. He still wears short pants, even though his friends have now graduated to trousers. His new bicycle is no more likely to impress the widow, but he prays for her welfare until he is old enough take care of her himself.
Like its title character, Malèna is a beautiful film. It's also funny and touching, and more than a bit goofy. Renato has quite an imagination, and his adolescent fantasy sequences show that he spends too much time at the movies -- like I should talk, but anyway...
Tornatore gracefully moves through this story that would have been quite devastating if the narrative wasn't detached. Instead of having us sympathize with Malèna, he wants us to see Renato become a man. This rite of passage requires Renato to give up his childish obsession, so the audience must also be fully detached from Malèna by the end of the film.
The result is a film that lacks the emotional weight that it could have had. But maybe Tornatore just wanted to make a light coming-of-age film, with a little Les Misérables and Mussolini thrown in for some dark espresso flavor. Call it: Cinema Mochaccino.
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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan