A scene from 'Malena'
Courtesy Photo
***1/2 stars (In Italian with English subtitles)
94 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Monday, December 25, 2000
Adapted & directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

Starring Monica Bellucci, Giuseppe Sulfaro, Daniele Arena, Giovanni Litrico, Gianluca Guarrera & Michel Bramanti


So beautifully photographed that you owe it to the director to see this film letterboxed. But the story it should translate very well to your TV.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 07.17.2001
I'm not surprised, but I hadn't realized that Miramax's 2000 theatrical release of this film had been cut by about 15 minutes. Available from Xploited Cinema, an excellent new two-disc import set puts the movie all back together. It now comes complete with more of Renato's erotic fantasies of Malena, as well as a few more sexy surprises. These scenes may or may not improve the film, but they do make one question the prudery of American censors. The second disc comes with several featurettes, interviewing director Tornatore as well as legendary composer Morricone, but none of these shorts are available with English subtitles. (The film itself comes with optional English and Korean subtitles.) Of course, Malena is still available in the easy-to-find, censored American DVD. Xploited advertises the import NTSC disc as Region 0, but it's really Region 3. -- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustibule Celluloid

  BUY IT from Xploited Cinema
RATIO: 2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced)
DUBS: none
SUBS: English, Korean

Watch the trailer!

 LINKS for this film
Official site (Miramax)
Official site (Oscar pimping)
at Internet Movie Database
Italian youth fantasizes about saving sexualized village belle from gossip, prying eyes in marvelous 'Malena'

By Rob Blackwelder

In his sentimental fictional-historical films, director Giuseppe Tornatore has become a maestro at creating an atmosphere of transcendentally enchanted cinematic nostalgia.

In 1989 his semi-autobiographical "Cinema Paradiso" created a world-wide sensation, virtually transporting audiences into the heart and head of a little boy mesmerized by the movies shown in the small playhouse of his post-World War II Italian village.

Last year's "The Legend of 1900" -- drama about a pensive piano virtuoso who lived his entire life on a luxurious ocean liner -- wasn't as accomplished a film, but it was no less potent in bringing vividly to life its turn-of-the-Century ambiance and demeanor.

"Malena" -- his latest spellbinding, fable-like reminiscence -- is set against the backdrop of another storybook seaside Italian town, this time during World War II. It portrays the entranced fixation a 12-year-old boy named Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) has on the hamlet's most beautiful and voluptuous denizen (Monica Bellucci), the new wife of a local soldier who is off fighting for Il Duce.

Her name is Malena and she has an innate sexual ambrosia about her that has always brought her nothing but trouble. Men -- young and old, married and single -- find her utterly irresistible. To women, she is a hussy, a born home wrecker and the target of hostile gossip in the town's many sewing circles.

Ironically, through his compulsive admiration from afar Renato is the only person in the village who has the vaguest idea who she really is. At night he sneaks up the knotty tree outside her small villa and spies on her while she dances sadly with her husband's photograph. During the day he follows her on cross-town strolls to visit her deaf father (Renato's school teacher, as it turns out) and watches as the people in the town square silently label her with their lustful and spiteful stares.

Of course, his image of Malena is something truthful, even if it's more than a little idealized. In his boyish, Hollywood-inspired sexual fantasies, he's Tarzan or Gary Cooper and she's Jane or a damsel in distress. But the frustrated fantasy he's simply too young to realize is the role of protector. Renato wishes he could defend her honor (at school, he fights with boys who make lewd comments about her), which is more at risk than ever when word comes that her husband has been killed in action and the town begins chattering instantly about her taking lovers.

Tornatore unveils the story with a voice-over from a grown Renato looking back on his youth, which gives the picture an intentionally idyllic air, even in the face of what Malena must do to survive the war's ravages yet to come. Spiritually broken and forced to stave off financial ruin, she becomes the harlot the townspeople had seen her as all along, eventually even selling her services to officers of the now-occupying German army.

At once a charming and tragic tale, "Malena" is warm, poignant and beautifully crafted. The scenic village of centuries-old stucco and stone lends to the film's dream-like character. Tornatore's fond and feeling direction draws the viewer into Renato's view of the world.

But it's the performances of the two leads -- who scarcely interact at all -- that strike the chord that sells the movie. The sensual, breathtaking Bellucci portrays warmth, romanticism, courage and sympathy in a character that is a paragon amalgam of the sweetly sexy girl next door and the unattainably sexy pin-up girl -- and does it with almost no dialogue. Young Sulfaro personifies a man's amplified recollection of the early stages of coming of age with a mix of quandarous melancholy and anxious, wide-eyed curiosity.

If Tornatore continues making films as captivating as "Malena" and "Paradiso," he could be on his way to a place on the list of Italy's best directors.

Uncut, imported
2-disc special edition

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