Malena

2000, Movie, R, 0 mins

Review

MALENA
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SUMMER OF '42, Italian style: Giuseppe Tornatore (CINEMA PARADISO) returns to the well of his Sicilian childhood in this wartime coming-of-age tale. Though the story is undeniably familiar, the specifics have universal appeal. Castelcuto, Sicily, 1940: Twelve-year-old Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) wants to be one of the big kids, whose principal pastime seems to be sitting on a seawall ogling Malena Scordia (Monica Bellucci), the married daughter of their Latin teacher whose husband is off fighting the war. They also ogle her in the town square and on the streets; in fact, the whole town does nothing but ogle Malena, to judge by what may be the slightly exaggerated memory of the adult Renato, who narrates. As the sad-eyed stunner (think Sherilyn Fenn by way of Elizabeth Taylor) wafts through town, you half expect milk bottles to start spurting, á la THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT. Smitten, Renato spies on Malena in her house and has B&W, American-movie-inspired romantic fantasies about her. When Malena's husband is declared dead and the government slashes everyone's pensions to help pay for the war, the decent and grief-stricken Malena does what she must to survive. She dates a mama's-boy lawyer until mama objects; she cuts off her hair in order to sell it; and she ultimately trades sexual favors. Renato becomes a witness to Malena's tragedy, eventually doing what small good he can after American soldiers rout the town's German occupiers and leave the "whore" Malena at the mercy of the town's angry women. Charming and bittersweet, Tornatore's film has an essential innocence about it that's seldom seen in contemporary WWII stories. It differs from American films about the period in its evocation of day-to-day passion, from Renato's father casually threatening to throw a chair at him and his slapping his daughter out of the way, to the viciousness of the rumors about Malena. The power of beauty is often dealt with in films, but not so often its powerful curse. (In Italian, with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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