As with every other great movie, Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena, the story of a Sicilian woman whose exceptional beauty weighs, for the worse, heavily on her fate, can’t but either resonate with you, at a visceral and profound level, or otherwise leave you dead cold.
I undoubtedly number among those on whose minds Malena will be etched for keeps.
The backdrop is 1940 Sicily, with the country having only just entered the war, and an exquisite-looking Italy, alive with people, and wistfully reverberating with history is revealed. Adroit camera angles and shots are made use of, making for a visually- arresting film, which succeeds in painting a truthful and riveting picture of the times and works wonders in bringing to life a bygone era. Of course, war and whatnot are strictly tangential to the movie, which touches on it only to the extent that it suits its purpose, playing its part in the course of the story. The movie is quick off the mark, and sure enough, one of the first things it does is introduce the protagonist: the gorgeous Malena (Monica Bellucci ), the wife of Nino Scordia, who, gone to war, leaves her alone, prey to a place crawling with rowdy, hot-and-bothered men and envious women.
But first things first: this is every bit as much the story of Renato Amoroso (Giuseppe Sulfaro – and yes, helluva romantic name), as it is Malena’s. The movie starts off by showing us Renato, getting a new bike, which not only makes him happy to the nth degree, but allows him at last to be part of this gang of scalawags, given to dogging drop-dead, sexually-arousing women. This is the day, and the way, Renato learns about and first lays eyes on Malena. He gets a hard-on too, for that matter. No one in town shies away from darting lascivious looks at her, and her walking up the street is quite an event. Among this multitude of men panting after her though, none is so constant as Renato, who, after taking a shine to her, undeterredly stalks and shadows her everywhere on his bike. A salient point that marks a significant turn in the story is the news of Malena’s husband’s death. A widow now, the men double down on their approach, bearing down on her, and soon, owing to poverty, she’s forced to bow down time and again to men’s taking advantage of her in return for food, and similar small favors. As to Renato, he’s around her house at all times, peeking in through a tiny hole in the wall. He keeps close tabs on every place she goes, and everyone that pops up at her house. He fantasizes about her up a storm and prays that no one should marry her just for a couple of years in order for him to be able “to take over”. He follows Malena’s story from start to finish -hurt,envious, powerless, and above all, loving her, heart and soul, from the shadows.
On a side note, Tornatore’s picture has no shortage of humor either, and it sure is, in patches, a barrel of fun. There are no whip-smart, snappy jokes, but the sheer situational irony and the superb acting do just the trick ( Case in point, – and here something of a spoiler alert is in order, I guess- when I say fantasizing, I’m not talking about Renato’s picturing himself all grown up and strolling around with Malena on his arm, end of story. We’re talking about his going so far as to swipe a pair of panties of hers. He puts them to good use too, masturbating like a madman, to the point where his father catches him and gives him the works, and he is even taken to a priest for an exorcism, his mother fearing demonic possession. His father instead wises up, and , taking the matter in hand, takes Renato to a brothel. Kill or cure).
As far as I’m concerned, the movie really does pack a wallop, and while the story isn’t perfectly watertight, with a course of events a trifle unlikely, and at times visibly strained, for those willing to put the nitpicking on the backburner for a while and just drift with the tide this once, Malena may come as a stirring, heart-rending, embarrassing, and entrancing surprise. Relatability is the key word, I gather, and if those having been part of a rather one-sided love, forbidden by either age, time or space, may well feel drawn to the story and yanked into a walk down memory lane, the film might just as well fall flat on its face for the others.
Here’s her only crime: her beauty!