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Italian movie, yes it's subtitled
starring Monica Bellucci and Giuseppe Sulfaro
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Release date: 2000
R rated for Sexual/Nudity, Language, and Some Violence
Academy Award Nominations for Best Cinematography - Lajos Koltai and Best Score - Ennio Morricone


This is the story of a beautiful woman (Malena) living through hard times. Her story unfolds through the eyes of 13 year old Renato, a boy coming of age. It is set in a quiet seaside village of Italy during World War II.

She has no friends. She visits her deaf father once a day while her husband goes off to war. She is alone, the object of male fantasies, young and old alike, and the target of jealous women.

Each day she walks into town, quiet, eyes averted to visit her father, while around her men speculate on how she is in bed. Women cat amongst themselves that she is surely a wanton whore. All of this because Malena has been blessed/cursed with stunning beauty. The sway of her hips is enough to cause riots. To the townspeople she is merely an object.

She gets the news that she is a widow, which enflames the men all the more, for she is now available. Things quickly downspiral from there. Wicked gossip reaches her father who will no longer see her. Gossip spreads like wildfire, getting more outrageous with each telling. Men make fools of themselves hoping to win this available beauty. She wants none of it. Lies bring her to court where she is accused of being infidel, of causing marraiges to break up .

She seeks the help of a lawyer to extricate her from the mess that her appearance has caused only to be sucked further down into the abyss. She is out of the frying pan and into the fire. He won't take her money for payment, but forces himself upon her, taking her body instead. Spiritually, she is broken. No one will hire her, she is thrown into poverty.

Starving, she begins to used the only currency she has, herself. She colors her hair, flaunts herself. When the Germans occupy the territory, she takes up with them. Anything in order to survive. Her face shows her resignation. She has become the harlot that the town had insisted she was all along. The women become more and more spiteful, not realizing that they had some part in her downfall. Jealousy overcomes them. They only feel anger and hate for her.

When the allies come into town, the women drag her out into the town square, stripping her bare, beating her near senseless, and cutting off the beautiful hair that they envy so much. Not one person stands up to the frenzied mob. It is allowed. If it had been acceptable, I'm sure they would have stoned her.

Only Renato truly sees her. He is in love with her. A boy's first love. Because of his compulsiveness, his addiction to her, Renato follows her everywhere though she doesn't see him. He spies through into her livingroom and sees her dancing sadly with a photo of her dead husband. He knows in her heart she is faithful to her love. He does not judge her for her actions later on. He has wild fantasies of being with her, but these taper down as the movie progresses. He moves to developing a strong empathy for her. He is frustrated that he is not man enough yet to defend her, yet he does it the only way he can. He throws bricks into the windows of mean spirited shop keepers, he urinates into the purses of catting women. He defends her the way only a boy can.

Renato was the only one who cared enough to see, really see Malena. He sees the courage it took for her to face the townspeople day after day, the courage it took to live after news of her husband's death, and the courage to stand up and walk beaten and naked through the mass of people jeering at her in their self-righteousness.

It is this courage that raises his own. When her husband ironically turns up alive and no one will tell him what happened to his wife, Renato sums up the courage to tell him. That she was brave, that she was always faithful in her heart, and where she last headed. These are two stories beautifully woven together. A boy becoming a man, physically AND emotionally. A woman struggling to survive on her own in an unforgiving world. Poignant. The two together bring out lessons in courage and hope.

Snippets of score located here

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