Second world war period in a small town in Sicily. 12 year old Renato is glad to have a second hand bicycle so that he can join the gang of local boys. Through them he sees Malena for the first time. She is around 28 years old and her husband is away, serving the military. Malena is the most beautiful woman in the town and since she is alone too, the moment she is out on the streets, the town comes stand still. The whole men folk follow her. Even the women follow her because of sheer jealousy. It is love at first sight for Renato and he keeps on following her day in and out. He makes peep holes in different points in her home and is always watching her. He dreams about her all the time, writes unsend letters to her and even picks up fight with his friends when they speak bad about her. There are so many rumours about her, but only he knows that they are all false and Malena is in love with her husband. One day the news arrives that her husband was killed and the whole men folk have hope now. The deserted street in front of her home is filled with gentleman wanting to impress her. Even she doesnt realise that men create stories of adultery and there is even a case of adultery against her. The advocate who proves her innocense in the local court almost rapes her and wants to marry her. But finally she says no to him. Renato keeps dreaming about her and wants to grow up to a man to go and protect her. He is unable to even face her straight. Soon Germans occupy the town and Malena, who is on abject poverty, turns into prostitution. She serves Germans. When the allied forces recapture the town, the women folk drags Malena out into the street, beats and kicks her and humiliates her. Renato and most men can only just watch helpless. Renato sadly watch Malena leaving the town, catching a train to Messina. After an year or so, Nino, Malena's husband arrives. Nobody wants to help him but Renato sends in a letter in which he assures her about how faithful she was and he could find him in Messina. To the shock of the villagers, Nino and Malena walks back to the town. The same women who kicked her, accepts her back.
Malena may not be amongst the greatest movies I saw, but Malena will always be one of my favourite movies ever. Renato in the last shot in the movie says - "Of all the girls who asked me if I remember them, the only one I remembered is the one who did not ask." - likewise, I was lead to this movie only because of Monica Bellucci but I am going to carry it with me for many other reasons.
It brought back all those memories during my own adolescence and teenage days. All those waits and cyclings up and down only to catch a glimpse of the odd beautiful girl in the village in a pattu pavaada (long skirt and blouse, mostly in glazing silk) or half saris and even Saris. I stopped going to temples around 12 or 13 years. But was always around the temple or the church region to get that one sight of a beautiful girl or women. Later in college, we knew exactly the time periods when senior girls - mostly from final year graduation or post graduation class - would walk out, to follow their beautiful walks in those wonderful cotton saris. Now it is shocking for me that I did not care at all about how beautiful their body was. All I cared was how good a face they had. May be those wonderful dresses covered up their bodies so well. In Malena however, the boys are amazed by her beautiful body. The way the boy's gang followed her and later Renato alone did, was so beautifully picturised.
I could easily identify with Renato and I am sure almost every man would, making this movie a very realistic nostalgic experience. Renato breathed and lived Malena. The use of old classic movies, placing Renato and Malena in place, was a brilliant idea and that was so beautiful. Even while raising many serious questions, the movie has a basic element of fun which prevails almost till the 3/4ths and that was excellent. All the dream sequences of Renato with Malena was so beautiful too. Real adolescence inspired romantic and sexual thoughts.
But Malena is the central character and she really grows on us. We really feel sorry for her state and this movie clearly shows how society can create prostitutes out of nowhere. Even women, owing to jealousy, can act most cruelly to a single woman in need of help is brilliantly portrayed. The scene of public humiliation was brilliant but will touch us deeply. For me this was the most heart breaking scene after the rape scene in Paruthiveeran. Her situation and also the helplessness on the faces of Renato and some other men plus the sheer cruelty on the face of some women really adds up to this scene and all credit to the director to make it a brilliant experience. And the scene immediately made me think about the similar atrocities upon the hapless Dalit women in India. Even by official reports, at least 4 dalit women are raped or paraded naked, daily, in India. Mostly the motive behind these crimes would be that of trying to take water from well meant for upper castes, questioning any upper caste men or women or not obeying them or for petty crimes committed by their husbands or even for opposing sexual advances of upper caste men. Malena at least had the choice to leave the town and live even if by selling herself and she was accepted back to the society when she had a man. But for our poor dalit women, they will never enjoy any kinds of such kindness from our brutal society. Whatever crime it may be, to humiliate women in public it is beyond any law or logic or beleif too. It is the worst crime that can be committed to a woman, just like rape. I wonder what would have been the thoughts of Sicilian public, women especially, watching this movie.
After watching Irreversible, I always was haunted by the painful face of Monica Bellucci and has longed to see her in a different kind of role. Thats how I was lead to this movie. And as the movie progressed I was happy and was stunned by the beauty of this woman. What a beauty? Her grace and elegance contrasts perfectly with her sensousness. But then came that humiliation scene and oh, once again. That was too much for me. Anyways this is a wonderful performance from this amazing lady. She doesnt even have many dialogues in this script. But she is the back bone of the script and she has done a great job as a woman who is punished for the sin of being beautiful.
The cinematography is brilliant, we will not worry about the camera at all, and so are the settings. It may not have brought as many acclaims to Tornatore, like Cinema Paradiso did, but he should be proud about this movie. Beauty is not always an asset, especially for the unfortunates. Society can turns itself into a beast to an innocent and unfortunate beauty.
It is a pity that this kind of movie will never get released in India, because of all its sensual nudity and the thread of adolescent eroticism behind Renato, but it is a real pity. This movie is for all men who love and respect womanhood. It is also for those who doesn't, including women. And since, in India, the latter hugely outnumbers the former, I would say it is a must watch.