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'Malena': Lust Horizon

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2000


    'Malena' Monica Bellucci is "Malena."
(Fabien Cevellos/Miramax)
I'm sorry, but even though filmmaker Giuseppe ("Cinema Paradiso") Tornatore's name is on "Malena," a wannabe sensitive coming-of-age tale set in World War II-era Sicily, it still feels more like "Porky's" with marinara sauce than "Summer of '42."

Played by the extremely fetching Monica Bellucci, the title character here is little more than a cipher onto whom a gaggle of oversexed teenage boys (I know, redundant) project their lust. Oversexed, that is, except for little Renato Amoroso (Giuseppe Sulfaro), a 12-year-old who purportedly feels something more akin to love for our heroine. That's right, and I suppose we're meant to believe that when the camera zooms in for a close-up of his crotch as he gawks at this dish swishing down the street, that's his heart, not some other organ swelling with emotion.

Okay, to be fair, Renato starts off little better than the older kids who drool as Malena sashays about the sleepy seaside town (on the beach of which they sit comparing notes about their genitalia). But as Renato gets to know Malena he begins to feel a deeper and more sympathetic concern for her as a human being, or so the film would have us believe.

What makes the claim dubious is that we never get to see exactly what Renato so perceptively sees in her. Oh sure, just like our barely pubescent hero, we get to ogle her falling out of her slip as she bends over the Victrola (Renato, you see, spends an inordinate amount of time peeping outside her window), but other than her obviously bodacious assets, there's not much there there.

How Tornatore manipulates our sympathies is by making Malena the object of scorn in the town. Just because she's hot-looking (not a major accomplishment in a place where most of the women look like Anne Ramsey in "Throw Momma From the Train"), the citizens revile her as a whore. When her soldier husband (Gaetano Aronica) dies in the war and she begins dating again, she's quickly ostracized, leading naturally enough to her becoming an actual prostitute.


If you missed that leap of logic, so did I. Throughout Malena's rapid downward spiral, Renato alone remains faithful, with an adoration that is never so pure it prevents him from playing with himself to reveries of her. And that's exactly what's wrong with "Malena": She's Renato's – and Tornatore's – sex fantasy, never a flesh-and-blood woman.

"Malena" (R, 94 minutes) – Contains obscenity, nudity, masturbation, family violence, a mob beating and a central focus on adolescent male sexual obsession. In Italian with English subtitles.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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