Maléna (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/03/2001

4 out of 5 stars
Running time: 92 mins

The latest film from the director of Cinema Paradiso - by turns sumptuous, sexy, funny, moving, thought-provoking and disturbing.

Tornatore’s latest film is set in the Sicilian village of Castelcuto, just as Italy enters the Second World War. The story is told through the eyes of the young narrator, Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro), a young boy on the edge of puberty who, as the story opens, is admitted to a gang of slightly older boys and their ‘ritual’ of watching Malena (Italian actress Monica Bellucci, last seen in Under Suspicion and L’Appartement) walk by them every day.

Malena is a stunningly beautiful woman, and her daily walk through town inspires lustful glances from all the men and seething envy from all the women. She, on the other hand, appears to ignore them all, devoting herself to her husband, who’s away in the war. However, when word comes that her husband has been killed in action, the villagers see this as the chance they’ve been waiting for, and Malena becomes the focus of much town gossip and unwanted attention, leading her into more and more desperate situations in order to pay her bills and so on.

Though the initial set-up may be reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso (narrator looks back on events of his childhood), the film is about more than just nostalgic yearnings, and the film takes a long hard look at the consequences of lust, gossip and envy in a small town atmosphere. Renato, through his undying love for Malena, is the only one who sees her true worth (even as he lusts after her), and we’re encouraged to see his view of her as the correct one. This, in turn, makes for an unbearably harsh climax, which is nonetheless believable in context.

Despite the film’s pessimistic view of humanity as represented by the townspeople, there is plenty of humour in the film. Tornatore uses smash-cuts, black-and-white fantasy sequences (Renato imagines himself and Malena in a quick succession of Hollywood-type 40s movies) and larger-than-life stereotypes (such as Renato’s yelling, slap-happy father) to deliver a series of effective gags. There are also several running gags, such as Renato’s obsession with getting a pair of long trousers (symbolising adulthood), or his own special system of ‘revenge’ on people who’ve wronged Malena, that work well within the film and lead to some of the biggest laughs.

In addition to this, there is the sumptuous photography by Lajos Koltai and a poignant score by the maestro himself, Ennio Morricone. The acting is superb, with Sulfaro not the typical Impossibly Cute Wide-eyed Kid of similar movies, but rather a convincingly gawky young boy on the verge of adolescence.

The centre of the film, however, is undoubtedly la belle Bellucci, who gives an incredibly physical performance and manages to convey a wide range of emotions and moods using just her body, whether it’s her walk, or her facial expressions – indeed, she hardly has any lines at all, largely because Renato can never pluck up the courage to speak to her. There’s good support, too, from the various actors playing the villagers, in particular Luciano Federico as Renato’s father.

To sum up then, this is well worth seeing, and if you find your appetite whetted by this, you should check out the Italian Film Festival at Riverside Studios at the end of March. Plus, if you’re aged between fifteen and twenty, Malena has every chance of doing for you what Betty Blue did for people in their mid-to-late late teens back in 1986 (i.e ‘awakening an interest in foreign movies’). Recommended.

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Content updated: 18/10/2017 23:10

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