Magical Monica's Malena
There is something about Italian cinema which is magical and a complete and utter joy to watch. No matter whether you understand Italian or not, the way their movies come across means that you don't need to, you don't even need to read the subtitles as the evolving story on the screen always tells a beautifully visual story. Combine this with a wonderful array of characters and music which whisks you off into another world and rarely do I watch an Italian movie that disappoints.
Such is the case with "Malena" a coming of age story focusing on Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro), a teenage boy who becomes infatuated with Malena (Monica Bellucci - Tears of the Sun), a recently widowed woman whose striking beauty gets everyone's head turning every time she enters town. As Renato continues to fantasize about Malena the attitude of the town's folk changes with all the men trying their luck with the mysterious beauty whilst the woman spread malicious rumours but only Renato knows the real truth.
One of the reasons why I like "Malena" is that it is rarely predictable. Whilst the main storyline to "Malena" may basically revolve around teenage Renato and his coming of age as he fantasizes about love and sex, the movie also delivers a wonderful and sometimes brutal tale about a woman who is cursed because she is beautiful. These two storylines cross over to create a movie which never becomes tired or predictable and is utterly engaging from beginning to end. Plus just as you become comfortable and think you know what is happening it shakes things up with a great twist.
But at the same time "Malena" is hugely entertaining especially the elements surrounding Renato's teenage fantasies about Malena. Whilst some may find many aspects of this to be too blunt I actually enjoyed the honesty of it and from a male perspective found its honesty highly amusing. It's a fact that young boys often fantasize about an older woman as they go through their teenage years, it's also true that they compare dick sizes and make unrealistic boasts about their sexual conquests and it's the fact that "Malena" doesn't hide from this but plays on it makes the movie all that more enjoyable. But there is a tenderness to this side of the story as Renato becomes very protective of Malena and takes matters into his own hands when he hears those around him bad mouthing her.
Whilst the storyline revolving around Renato is amusing, the storyline around Malena's cursed life is very touching and at times shockingly brutal. Although elements are very much exaggerated this side of the movie gives "Malena" a very different tone and a lot more intriguing. I will say that at times I found some of the scenes revolving around the way the townsfolk treat Malena to be so brutal that I found it a little uneasy to watch but can appreciate that director Tornatore was trying to shock us and he achieved it.
Moving away from the storyline there are various aspects of "Malena" which add to the magic of the movie. As is often the case with Italian movies "Malena" is full of wonderful characters, many of which feel as if they are caricatures rather than real but all of this adds to it's quirky amusing nature, such as that of the town's lawyer who at times reminded me of a Chaplin character with his over the top emotions and exaggerated arm movements. Plus there is the location and era, filmed mainly in various areas of Sicily the architecture of the town is magnificent and combined with the costumes take you back to the era just as Italy enter the war. But what I also liked is that Tornatore never relies on just showing scenic shots preferring to capitalize on the scenery to tell the story.
It has to be mentioned that due to the nature of the story line there is a certain amount of nudity and insinuated sex, most of which revolves around a semi naked Monica Bellucci. But it is by no means tacky, the nudity is not thrown in for the sake of it, instead adding to the movie and the passion of the storyline/
But the one thing which does really stand out is the "Malena" soundtrack which comes from the hands of Ennio Morricone. You can quite literally get lost in the wonderful, flowing orchestral pieces which sweep you along rising and crashing in tune with the story. I often fail to pay much attention to the music but in this case you can't help but become enchanted by the beautiful violins and orchestral pieces.
As for the performances well the important ones come from Monica Bellucci as Malena and also Giuesppe Sulfaro as Renato. Bellucci is undeniably beautiful but she also manages to make the character of Malena mysterious as for a lot of the movie she remains silent. But despite this you can really get a sense of what she is going through just by her mannerisms. The same can be said for Sulfaro who may have a much more vocal role it is his mannerisms which make the character and tell the story. The look in his eyes whenever he sees Malena is very moving as well as the anger whenever he hears someone bad mouthing her.
What for me is probably the greatest joy when it comes to "Malena" is that despite it being in Italian it is such a visual movie that you don't need to read the subtitles or understand Italian to know what the movie is about. You can become so tied up in all the elements such as the acting, the music, the humour that it tells a story without words, something which Hollywood could do with learning.
What this all boils down to is that alongside "Il Postino" and "La vita è bella", "Malena" is one of my favourite Italian movies, it is beautifully made and tells a wonderfully entertaining story which refrains from being predictable and engages you from beginning to end. For those who shun away from foreign films I would recommend giving "Malena" a go as it will change your opinion.