March 8, 2001

Cinema Siciliano

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena tastefully portrays a Sicilian boy’s coming of age story during World War II without the melodrama that usually accompanies sexual maturation and war films. The nature of the storytelling, which relies more on viewer interpretation of the events and the character’s emotions than on the plot itself, is so compelling that it becomes immaterial that the film is subtitled.

Malena Scordia (Monica Belucci) is a beautiful woman in her mid-twenties whose husband is off fighting in the war. In his absence, Malena is the sexual fantasy of most of the men in her small town, especially thirteen year-old Renato Amoroso (Giuseppe Sulfaro). Renato’s fixation on Malena leads him to constantly spy on her and causes him to habitually masturbate, which his parents believe “will make him go blind.”

Malena is an extremely loyal and considerate person, faithful to her husband and helpful to her elderly father, but her beauty makes her the object of the contemptuous townswomen’s envy and scorn. After Malena’s husband, Nino Scordia (Gaetano Aronica), is reported dead, the townswomen assassinate Malena’s character, as they portray her as a whore and publicly shun her.

Meanwhile, the war’s damage conveniently intervenes to enable the government to confiscate Malena’s property for displaced citizens because she owes money. Malena, as a result of these factors, has little choice but to turn to a life of prostitution so that she can sustain herself. These elements subtly put the film in historical perspective without detracting from the character development.

Renato remains a silent spectator, until the conflict is resolved, and the film traces his emotional trajectory and sexual development as the events of Malena’s life unfold. Moreover, the quality of acting is high enough to allow the plot to play a lesser role. These crucial aspects maintain viewer interest, in that they enable one to connect to the characters in an otherwise unfamiliar setting and time period, making Malena a worthwhile experience.

The careful integration of music coupled with the proper execution of a well-chosen setting — a small Sicilian town that has retained the charms of an earlier era — are two facets of Malena that substantially add to the credibility of the film and showcase the director’s talent.

Malena, due to its strong sexual content and occasional sacrilegious moments, is not suited for those who are overly sensitive to and easily offended by such issues. But I would recommend Malena to anyone who is willing to put forth the effort to embrace an excellent film that requires analysis.

Archived article by Louis Benowitz