(Recommended by SI Blog reader Guruprasad)
I pedaled as fast as I could, as if I were escaping from longing, from innocence, from her.
Time has passed and I’ve loved many women.
And as they’ve held me close and asked if I will remember them I’ve said, “Yes, I will remember you.”
But the only one I’ve never forgotten is the one who never asked – Malèna.
– Amoroso Renato in Malèna
Thus ends the Italian movie Malèna (2000).
And as the credits started rolling, we couldn’t but help but ponder this point – Is it possible to forget the traumatic humiliations and vicious beatings heaped on you – motivated largely out of jealousy for your fine looks and classy demeanor – and pretend as if it all never happened the next time you encounter your oppressors.
No, that goes against the grain of human nature.
And human beings are certainly not so forgiving. But Malèna director Giuseppe Tornatore would have you believe otherwise.
Or the attitude of the town-folk towards Malèna’s husband. This time, the director seems to go off completely in the other direction.
Strange, but we suppose these are what’s termed cinematic liberties.
Set in a small Italian town during World War II when Il Duce Benito Mussolini’s voice roared all across Italy via radio sets, the movie is a tale of unrequited lust or unrequited love or unrequited infatuation for Malèna – The woman (Monica Bellucci) with the most beautiful ass in Castelcuto and a face to match.
But this is not the lust, love or infatuation of a young lad or an older man besotted with the town beauty, although anyone with cojones in Castelcuto is obsessed with Malèna.
You see, our protagonist here is a mere kid (Giuseppe Sulfaro). Just 12 1/2 when the movie starts.
We see the entire movie through the young boy’s eyes, and as told years later. Here Malèna director Giuseppe Tornatore employs the same technique he did in his acclaimed Cinema Paradiso (1989), a stellar film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Malèna is the story of our eponymous woman and her exquisite beauty.
A beauty that draws the attention of not merely all the men in town but also young boys like our Amoroso Renato, who falls under her spell from the moment he first eyes her, and of the women-folk as well, who despise her for the very beauty that has enslaved their men.
The war years are hard times for most Italians including Malèna, whose husband is in the army serving in northern Africa. To make a bad situation worse, comes unwelcome news that Malèna’s husband has been killed in the war.
Life gets harsh for the young widow, not merely at the hands of local gossips, both men and women, but also in finding food for survival. Her own father, the deaf school teacher, turns against her after receiving a nasty anonymous note labeling his daughter the town slut.
Interestingly, Monica Bellucci, who plays Malèna with mucho elegance, speaks very little throughout the movie. Once in the court and a few short sentences at other times.
Most of the time, our glimpses of Malèna is of her regal, elegant walk down the streets of the town.
It’s the potent story that gives voice to Malèna.
Monica Bellucci in Malèna is beautiful and sensual in an elegant, old-world, European, timeless kind of way. Not the crude, slutty looks of our Bollywood starlets or the made-up, vampish prettiness of the Hollywood beauties.
We liked her best of all as we along with Renato espy her dancing alone to Ma L’Amore No playing on the turntable.
Giuseppe Sulfaro as the young Renato can teach our veteran Indian actors more than a few lessons in the craft of acting. Abhishek Bachchans of the world, are you listening?
The kid Renato is a charmer, alright.
Whether astride his bicycle on the streets in pursuit of a glimpse of his inamorata or during his moments of idle fantasies, the boy has done a fine job.
Humor, Both Good & Crass
There’s some nice humor and some not-so-nice humor here.
The not-so-nice humor, crass moments have to do mostly with the schoolboys’ behavior toward the deaf teacher (also Malèna’s father).
The nice humor invariably has to with the young boy Renato’s obsession with Malèna.
Like the scene where he so furiously masturbates on his bed that it disturbs his sleeping father who yells out in anger:
You’re going to go blind.
Or the scene where Renato is caught in bed with Malèna’s panties wrapped around his face.
Malèna is our second film from director Giuseppe Tornatore.
The director has a knack of building strong, memorable characters woven around decent stories in his movies.
As with the young boy in Cinema Paradiso, so with Malèna and Renato in Malèna.
Tornatore has also written the screenplay for Malèna based on the story by Luciano Vincenzoni.
The photography is decent and the settings convey the 1940s era plausibly enough.
And if you need one more reason to watch Malèna, the music is from our beloved maestro Ennio Morricone.
SearchIndia.com recommends Malèna.
You can rent the movie from Netflix if you live in the U.S. For those in India, well, you guys do have nimble fingers. Don’t you? 😉