Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) is a 14 year-old boy living in a small Sicilian fishing village during the Second World War, whose growing sexual awareness is powerfully ignited at the sight of the local beauty, Malèna Scordia (Monica Bellucci). Newly married, but soon widowed, she is regarded as a threat by the other women of the village, whose husbands can barely conceal the lust in their eyes as she walks across the town square. When the town comes under German control, alliances are formed through necessity, setting the town even further against her. Renato believes that only he knows the real Malèna.
The Korean Special Edition release of Malèna contains the full director’s cut of the film with around 15 minutes of scenes restored that Miramax (living up to their MiramAxe reputation) had removed before the film's international Theatrical Release. Most of these scenes feature a great deal more full-frontal nudity, particularly in scenes involving the young lead Renato, which Miramax, evidently expecting in Malèna the same sugary sweet innocence of Cinema Paradiso and no doubt to avoid censorship problems, heavily trimmed back. However, while some of Bellucci’s nude scenes are clearly gratuitous there are no explicit sex scenes. The nudity is glamour-model variety and this is consistent with the theme of the film and a young boy's fantasy idea of women. Such subject matter can be problematic though, running a fine line between making a serious comment about the glamourisation and idealisation of women and exploitatively using this glamour as an attraction of the film. Opinions will vary over whether the film oversteps the mark, especially in this longer cut of the film.
Malèna, the character, remains an enigma throughout the film, saying little, betraying little through her emotions or expressions. Malèna is what everyone wants her to be. For Renato, Malèna is the ultimate fantasy, the Jane to his Tarzan, the Cleopatra to his ...er, snake. She is defined by the lusts, the desires, the preconceptions and the prejudices she inspires in others and is no more than what they allow her to be. This runs the risk of making Malèna less a real person and more of a symbol or figurehead for all women in general, or perhaps more specifically to an image of women in a male-dominated society during a particular period of history. The role and influence of the Catholic church on society and the fostering a particular image of women is made fun of in a wonderfully outrageous and irreverent scene where Malèna is glorified by Renato as the Virgin Mary in a religious procession through the town. Subtle the scene is not (and there are many similar examples of heavy-handed symbolism in the film), but it makes its point.
The picture-postcard photography and the glamour model poses of Bellucci bear little relation I’m sure to the reality of living in a poor fishing village, but this romantic ideal is counter-balanced, somewhat incongruously, by some particularly uncomfortable scenes at the end of the film when the attentions paid to Malèna become a little more threatening and culminate in a particularly long scene of brutal violence. While not unrealistic considering the dramatic build-up of the film and the end-of-war hysteria, the violence is perhaps overly explicit, the scene over-long and it has uncomfortable sexual undertones. It doesn't make for pleasant viewing.
Malèna’s debt to Fellini’s wonderful Amarcord, also set in a small provincial Italian town under Fascist control can be clearly felt through the film. The glorification of the town beauty recalls Magalí Noel’s La Gradisca stalked by the local boys who discuss the rumours and stories that have built up around her. Tornatore’s penchant for picture-postcard prettiness however never allows him too carry the evocation of time, place and mood as successfully as Fellini, and feels a little too emotionally manipulative to ring true.
The Korean Special Edition from Spectrum presents the original 109 minute cut of the film on Disc 1 and 171 minutes of extra material on Disc 2. This edition bears a strong resemblance to the Italian Special Edition and appears to be a port of that release. The NTSC conversion of this PAL source would also account for the 103 minute running time of the feature on DVD. There appear to be no cuts although Korean censorship means that certain images have been masked with a huge black circle. This only applies to the picture when the Korean subtitles or no subtitles are selected. If you select English subtitles, you can view the film uncut and uncensored - a curious anomaly. The DVD is beautifully packaged in a fold-out digipack with a slipcase. A thin booklet contains biographies and filmographies, but is in Korean only.The Korean DVD can be purchased from DVDAsian - and from YeonDVD.
The picture quality is superb – easily the best presentation of the film on DVD to date. Colours are warm, deep, rich and vivid presenting the golden magic-hour glow of the film with a beautiful clarity of tone and strong contrast. There are practically no marks or dust spot damage to the print and levels of grain are very low. The image is not perfect however. It must be borne in mind that the film has been transferred from PAL to NTSC, which has the effect of giving the image a slight blurring when there is fast movement or panning. A slight softening of the image is however never a problem as it plays well into the soft-focus nature of the photography. Generally the PAL conversion artefacts are not a problem that can be detected through normal playback of the film, but can be clearly seen in slow motion or freeze-frame of the film (and I couldn’t possibly imagine why anyone would want to do that in this film!).
The Korean release comes with a choice of three soundtracks, DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 - all the original Italian soundtrack. All sound good, the DTS soundtrack obviously excelling, making good use of the surround speakers and particularly showcasing Ennio Morricone’s score for the film. The 5.1 mix is also fine, although less showy than the DTS soundtrack.
English subtitles are provided for the main feature, but are not available for the extras on the second disc (although the nature of the majority of the extras mean this isn't necessarily a problem). Subtitles are of course optional and present no problems with grammar or translation. On one or two occasions they stretch to three lines, but this is very rare.
The Life & Dream of Giuseppe Tornatore (52.53)
This is an Arena-style documentary, Un Sogno Fatto in Sicilia (A Dream Made in Sicily), that takes a look at Sicily and Tornatore’s hometown of Bagheria as it is depicted in the director’s films and in the films of Rosi and Visconti. Tornatore is interviewed and there is footage from home-videos, the director’s early documentaries and his films. The documentary is in Italian with only Korean subtitles (optional), presented in 1.66:1 letterbox with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
Four behind the scenes looks at the filming of Malèna. Making 1 (24.22) shows the shooting of Malèna drying her hair in the sun; Making 2 (4.17) is the shooting of the scene in the market at the end of the film; Making 3 (6.44) is a shot of Renato looking longingly at Malèna from his bicycle; Making 4 (10.18) is of Malèna and Renato on the beach at the end of the film. 4:3 ratio, video quality, these are blurry and soft. The features contain optional Korean subtitles only, but most of the scenes are silent with only the director calling Action or commenting on the take, so it is perfectly possible to watch this without losing anything.
This is an English language Making of Malèna featurette. A typical promo piece, it features clips from the film (unsubtitled) with soundbite interviews, in English, with Monica Bellucci and Giuseppe Tornatore.
Giuseppe Tornatore (9.14). The interviews are in Italian with only Korean subtitles, the questions are shown in Korean text. Quality is a bit rough and sound isn’t too distinct. Tornatore talks about shooting the film in Morocco, which had the look he wanted of an unmodernised Sicily in the 1940s, as well as people who looked like Sicilians of the period. He also talks about the difficulty of casting a boy in the role of Renato. Giuseppe Tornatore and Ennio Morricone (22.28). The director and composer talk about working initially on Cinema Paradiso, and about how it differed from their approach to the musical score of Malèna, which evolved over a two year period, was composed before the film was shot and then rearranged when the film was edited. Morricone talks about developing the musical themes, the three types of music – playful tunes, sophisticated orchestration and interpretations of the music of the period - and the difficulties of blending them together. Tornatore talks about when and how to use music in the film, how he uses it to say something that cannot be expressed in any other way.
In Studio (21.51)
No language problems on this feature as there is almost no dialogue. This shows Morricone conducting a couple of the music recording sessions.
The original theatrical trailer (2.19) is shown 2.35:1 letterbox, the American trailer (1.58) is shown 4:3 and is slightly less racy.
Three 32 second TV spots, all with English voiceover.
Malèna is an interesting if never entirely successful attempt by director Tornatore to mix childhood reminiscence with a stronger statement about attitudes and hypocrisy in Italian society, a curious combination of kitsch and social commentary that never seems to blend. Whatever you make of its intentions, it’s a well-made film whose merits and flaws make it intriguing viewing. The Korean Special Edition DVD is not ideal, but unless you speak Italian, it is the best way at the moment of seeing the film as the director intended.