Monday, November 05, 2007

MALÈNA

Set in World War 2 Sicily, Malèna [Giuseppe Tornatore, 2000] begins as the story of a young boy's infatuation with the most beautiful woman in his small town. Renato [Giuseppe Sulfaro] watches Malèna from afar, fantasises about her and dreams of her. Indeed, beguiled as I am by Ennio Morricone's haunting score, I regard the film, in some ways, as a "hymn to adolescence".



But it is much more than that: as the war progresses, Malèna [Monica Bellucci], always detested by the women of the town because of her beauty, falls upon hard times, culminating when her husband is reported dead. The women take revenge by forcing their shopkeeper husbands, who have previously admired Malèna's looks, to deny her any of the diminishing food supply. Eventually the desperate Malèna takes a German officer as a lover and protector, a decision which, with Liberation, causes her to be treated as all known female collaborators were: she is set upon violently by the townswomen, has her head shaved to mark her out and of course, no one will help her.



Note that I used the word "decision" in the above paragraph: the jury will always be out on whether becoming a collaborator in this way is a "decision" or whether the women had no choice, if they wanted to live. In times that were unimaginably difficult for everyone, it seems to me to have been easy for women who were, at least, protected by marriage to have judged the "Malènas" of the world. One of my specialist subjects at university was the literature of France and Italy during that period and I long ago concluded that, in occupied countries, there were few heroes among the non-combattant population: there is a myth that there were, but Le Chagrin et la Pitié [Ophuls, 1971] comes closer to the truth. Collaboration, you see, could happen on so many levels that it is very hard to define it: in some ways, if you just did your job and lived your daily life as best you could, that was collaborating. We would all like to think we would have been heroic but the reality is that the majority of us might just have tried to keep our heads down and get through it. That, admittedly, is a long way from the "active" collaboration of sleeping with the enemy, but who among us really knows what we would do in order to simply survive?



Whatever your thoughts on this weighty matter, if you are interested in Sicily and in this period, I urge you to seek out this film: beautifully shot, it is a reminder not only of the joy and pain of being young, but of how human beings behave in extraordinary circumstances, and in particular - perhaps sadly - of how cruel women can be to other women. You'll be pleased to learn that there is a sort of reconciliation at the end.

15 comments:

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Monica Belluci is very striking.
I must admit I got a bit distracted by her watching the Passion of Christ.

Which is wrong, I concede.

leslie said...

I find it interesting that you and I have an interest in that era. I'd love to have you suggest historical novels I could read and I will definitely check out this movie. A lot of my friends think I'm crazy to enjoy films and books about the wars, but I find it so fascinating to see how the human being can change under such circumstances. I, too, would like to believe I'd be one of those underground rebels, but in reality would more than likely do as you mention - keep my head down and try not to attract any attention.

tooth fairy said...

I love italian films. Malena is a favorite as is Cinema Paradiso. This reminds me that I want to rent The Star Maker.

jmb said...

Interesting thoughts about collaboration Welshcakes. Who of us know what we would do in those circumstances and I'm sure many women would have done the same as Malèna, especially if they had children to feed.

jmb said...

By the way, I figured out the embedding thing. It's not at all hard after all.

Kizzie said...

I watched the movie 3 times, I love it!
I was touched by his reaction when the women beat her up and stripped her infront of their husbands:(

Winchester whisperer said...

I'd like to see that. One of my favourite Italian films is Cinema Paradiso.

Gledwood said...

I would love to see that film too

mutleythedog said...

How long is it? Only I have this attention deficit problem when it comes to movies....

Ellee Seymour said...

I think I might order this, it sounds really lovely, my kind of film, and my mother's too. Which has reminded me, the dvd of Carlos Acosta dancing which I ordered for my mum has not yet arrived, it should have done by now.

Ellee Seymour said...

Come to think of it, I remember my mother having an Italian friend called Marlene when I was a child.

My mother looked very much like Sophie Loren in her heyday, she was very glamorous, and still is a knockout.

King Tutanhigham said...

Collaboration, you see, could happen on so many levels that it is very hard to define it: in some ways, if you just did your job and lived your daily life as best you could, that was collaborating.

Yes, I knew a woman who was a child in the war in the Ukraine and she told of these things. It's all very well being all principled away from it but if you're in the middle - well, it's a different story.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Crushed, Well, I think that's normal for a man! Hi, Leslie. Great that we have this interest in common. Historical novels about Sicily? Well, "The Leopard" [Tomasi di Lampedusa] has to be number one and then "Travels with a Medieval Queen" by Mary Taylor Simeti [though it's not a novel]. I am going to post about more! On the fascist period, "Fontamara" [Ignazio Silone] is a must. Hi, TF. Yes, L'Uomo delle Stelle is lovely too. Thank you for reminding me. Hi, jmb. Yes, if you had a family to feed what would you do? - Whatever was necessary, I should think. Do please tell me how to do the technie stuff re embedding videos! Hi, Kizzie. Yes, I think his reaction - knowing he could do nothing yet wanting so much to help her - was very well depicted. WW, it's the same director, so if you like CP you will like this. I think the film would interest you, Gleds. 88 minutes, Mutley. Hi, Ellee. I think you would both be fascinated by it. - Your Mum was and is glamorous and that's where you get it from, Ellee! Hi, James. Exactly. If you are in the middle of it and struggling to survive, then it is entirely different. Most of us cannot imagine that.

Gracchi said...

Nice review- its a film I have always found interesting as well- you are entirely right about the relationship between Malena's abuse and the townswomen- I must write about that at some point.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Gracchi. I'll be interested to read your thoughts when you post regarding the bahviour of the townswomen.

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