Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by:Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Monica Bellucci, Giuseppe Sulfaro, Luciano Federico, Matilde Piana
Released: November 22, 2001
Grade: B-

I caught Malena on a Saturday night at Melbourne’s Nova Cinemas on Lygon Street.  It was a small exclusive theatre filled with knowledgeable people from varied cultures.  It was the perfect setting to appreciate the latest film from Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso).

Malena Scordia (Bellucci) is a model of beauty in a small Sicilian town.  World War II has begun and Italy is now involved.  Malena’s husband, Nino (Aronica), has been sent off to war.  With such an attractive woman living alone, everyone is whispering.  Men talk of her splendour and fantasise of being her lover.  Women are crazy jealous and spread rumours of her unfaithfulness to her husband.

12-year-old Renato Amoroso (Sulfaro) is coming of age and Malena is the object of his desire.  He knows he’s too young but he keeps a constant eye on the luscious Malena and spies on her through a small hole in her home’s second story window.

Word arrives that Nino has been killed in combat and Malena is left with nothing.  Her pension is cut off, the women of the town have abandoned her and no one is willing to help.  The quiet and unassuming Malena is now being undeservedly punished for the beauty she was born with.

In Australia, we don’t see many foreign language films but many will see the similarity with Life Is Beautiful - a romantic comedy set against the tragedy of war.  In comparison, Malena’s total lack of substance makes it inferior.  The story is too simple.  Subplots are raised but never developed.  Renato’s bizarre relationship with his parents was more interesting than the love story but this element of the story was given little film time.

Malena was nominated for two Oscars earlier this year and there’s no denying the deservedness of Lajos Koltai’s cinematography and Ennio Morricone’s music score.  I love the way Koltai softly moves the camera during many scenes.  It gives a wider perspective and is a change from the simplicity of keeping a camera in one spot and zooming in and out.  Morricone’s peaceful music is ideal and is sure to find a place in my soundtrack collection.

All the elements are present but the story just doesn’t work.  It’s very sexual in looking at Renato’s pubescent development but the jokes are too silly and cute to create emotional feeling.  Malena’s story is tragic but I had little respect for either her or Renato.  It’s not easy trying to mix comedy and drama and Tornatore doesn’t get the job done.

In a time when few foreign language films are seen in this country, it’s a shame we’re given a weak entry when many other acclaimed foreign pics can’t find distribution.