Malèna was overshadowed early this year by another foreign film release - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it appears that to the mass paying public, one 'good' foreign film is enough per year. However, those fortunate enough to have seen Malèna will delight in another charming feature from already legendary Giuseppe Tornatore, the fellow behind the Oscar winning Cinema Paradiso. Malèna is very similar to this classic but also very different. A young adolescent boy is still the focus, and love is still the essential drive, yet Tornatore seems determined to use these themes to tell another story, one more sinister and subtler.
Giuseppe Sulfuro stars as young and innocent Renato, a boy slowly coming to terms with his ever-encroaching puberty during 1940 wartime Italy. Along with the rest of the town's male population, Renato's sexual arousal is heavily increased by the mere presence of the town beauty, young and voluptuous Malèna Scordia (Monica Belluci). Malèna is very unfortunate, as most of the women population of the town despises her because of her unequalled adulation from the males. Malèna's reputation soon grows to 'demon' like status, as the Chinese whispers start to spread that she has many lovers and that she is unfaithful to her war-serving husband Nino. To make matters worse for Malèna, she is continually hassled by many of the married men in the town, as kudos has become attached to whoever sleeps with her, which doesn't bode well for her standing with the women. Renato, however, sees Malèna differently. He's doesn't want Malèna for her body, or at least not just that; he wants to rescue her like a damsel-in-distress from the evil disapproval of the town and take away Malèna as his own.
Initially, Malèna is merely a stylish and foreign attempt at being a coming-of-age comedy - Tornatore style. However, read between the lines and Malèna is actually a deeper film dealing with unjust persecution in society and man's rendering of women as mere objects. The cinematography is lush and golden and the perfect pan pipe and flute score by Ennio Morricone confirms him as one of the greatest composers of all time. The acting is fine all round by the cast, even if Monica Belluci doesn't actually have a chance to do anything but look sexy until the final reel. Of particularly interest was Luciano Federico as Renato's father. Federico conveys well the misinformed notion that all Italian's are essentially budding Roberto Benigni's. However, Federico has the funniest line of the movie, shouting to his son that he'll go blind if he masturbates at his current frequent rate. Malèna isn't as good as film as Cinema Paradiso and isn't as original, but it is an affectionate and warm film with a darker core.