Malena is a film that gives the impression that there are no innocent
parties. The men are guilty of dirty, lustful thoughts (and some of
more than just thoughts), the women are guilty of gossip, violence and
probably more than a little envy, and Malena is guilty of being a
homewrecker. But in looking back at the movie it seems that what caused
the problems were two things gossip and something like insecurity.
Roger Ebert wrote probably the most idiotic review I've ever seen him come out with about this movie. He missed the point of this movie even more than he missed the point of Memento, and his review of that movie was like a blind man describing a shooting star. He describes Malena as a schoolteacher "of at least average intelligence, who must be aware of her effect on the collective local male libido, but seems blissfully oblivious."
Roger, seriously, are you joking? BLISSFULLY?? Did you sleep through this movie?
She almost never speaks at all and never displays even the slightest hint of a smile. Given the extent of her depression and stifling sadness, it is astounding to me that anyone in their right mind could attach the word "blissfully" to any element of her character.
I know what that's like though, because sometimes I completely miss something about a movie and I think that something else is the stupidest thing in the world because of it, at least until someone explains what I missed and then it all makes sense. Watch Malena, for example, walking through the central square in town at any point in the movie. If you think she keeps her eyes on the ground directly in front of her because she is in a state of pure, ignorant bliss, then trust me. You are missing something.
I don't know if Malena was actually unaware of the effect that she had on the townspeople, but I find it nearly impossible to believe that she did. That thought actually never even occurred to me until I read Roger Ebert's gem of a review. Her behavior struck me much more like someone who had been dealing with such behavior from the men around for her whole life. I doubt very much that she doesn't understand the concepts of human physical attraction.
Moving on. Set against the backdrop of World War II reminded me of Life is Beautiful, especially given the uncertain mix of comedy and tragedy. It wasn't as powerful on both sides here as in Life is Beautiful, but it was truly heartbreaking to see Malena suffering and trying to ignore the increasing tension that was being generated around her.
It's hard to say that she was a victim of her own beauty, but it was really what drove all of the conflict in the story. The women at first seemed to be upset with their husbands because of their stares, and things got worse and worse because of the endless gossip which seemed to monopolize the talk of the entire town. If anyone was talking about anything, it had something to do with the latest sexual escapades of Malena.
Women would not sell her good food at the town market, so she had to get it from men who expected things in return. There was a scene where an officer was at her home, but I don't think there was any indication that they had sex. It was clear that he was more interested than she was, and later it was her that wound up in court for having an amorous relationship with a married man in uniform. The courtroom performance of Malena's lawyer, by the way, is one of the highlights of the movie.
I'm not really sure how to feel about the women involved in the climax of their collective hatred of Malena, because surely Malena did not sleep with the husband of every woman involved, and of those whose husbands committed no crime other than looking at a beautiful woman, what did they then think of their wives, who would do such a thing out of pure jealousy and envy? I'm a man myself; so I can't speak from a woman's point of view, but if your husband cheats on you, take it out on him. Don't go and beat up the subject of his affections, especially if it is nothing more than a beautiful woman that he looked at. Imagine all of the attractive women beaten up without knowing why.
Weaving his way throughout all of this chaos is Renato, a 12-year-old boy who has conceptualized Malena as the ideal woman in all ways. He sees himself as her protector, desperate to save her from the tension that he sees growing around her, the unfair antagonism that is being leveled at her, for really no fault of her own. His identification of Malena as the subject of his developing sexuality reminded me of another great film, The Hairdresser's Husband. If you liked this, see that one, too. Oh and if you're Roger Ebert, maybe watch this one again.
And stay awake this time.
Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance / War
Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance / War
Malèna is about the peril of a beauty through the eyes of a 12 year old kid named Renato. He experiences three things on the same day, beginning of war, getting a bike and sees the arrival of Malèna in town. Through his eyes, we see the curse of beauty and loneliness of Malena, whose husband is presumed to be dead, and through his soul we see his undying love for her.
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