Main cast: Monica Bellucci (Malena Scordia), Giuseppe Sulfaro (Renato), Luciano Federico (Renato’s Father), Matilde Piana (Renato’s Mother), Pietro Notarianni (Professor Bonsignore), Gaetano Aronica (Nino Scordia), Gilberto Idonea (Avvocato Centorbi), and Gabriella Di Luzio (Mantenuta del Barone)
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
There are movies that are tailor-made for guys. Some are honest in their motives, and they get relegated to “discreet mail-order” service hell. Others, like Malèna, masquerades as an “arty movie”. I try to give it credit for addressing the hypocrisy of the Madonna/Whore stigma society attaches to women, but still, I have a hard time swallowing a movie about a boy jerking off while peeping into a prostitute’s bedroom calling itself an “artistic quality” movie.
Giuseppe Tornatore made movies like Cinema Paradiso and The Legend of 1900 – pure schmaltz hell and cures for insomnia. His movies always suffer from sugar overdose and calculated nostalgia, and this one is no different. But what makes this movie more difficult to swallow is its chauvinist, even misogynist plot window-dressed as a tragic tale of an unfortunate woman.
You know the usual morality tale. Beautiful woman forced by poverty to be a prostitute and eventually stoned and beaten by the “moralistic” women of her clients. The message here is unmissable: good woman don’t, bad women do and deserve the very smelly stuff life then metes out on them. But at the same time, we have our 13-year boy’s sexual awakening catapulted by this woman. As he masturbates while peeping into the woman’s room, he tries to tell me, “Yeah, this is like – wow – enlightenment, dude!” Yeah, enlightenment, that’s right.
So on one hand we have the tale of a Bad Woman’s Punishment and How She Just Cannot Help It If Life Is a Bitch. Okay, if that’s what the movie is about, I’m fine with it. Then the camera lingers on Monica Bellucci’s breasts and every inch of her lovely body like a sensual lover, inviting me to feel the very lust for her that the movie condemns. So is Malèna a symbol of martyrdom or an illicit pleasure? Well, judging from how Renato, as an old horny bastard (yes, the old man sentimental device crops up here too), reminisces about how Malèna made his life fun, I can only come to one conclusion. This movie reinforces the double standard: men want the “horny, dirty” beautiful women they force their sex on, and marry the “pure” women who have the luxury of holding out for marriage, and… “Jolly gee, you know that ho they beat out of town named Malèna? Dang, me old balls still get a twitch from thinking about her!” et cetera.