Malena 2000 | Movie Watchlist

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, Sici… (more)

Released: 2000

Rating: R

User Rating:4.33 out of 5 (15 ratings)

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Reviewed by Frank Lovece
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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.)