“Wisdom I know is social. She seeks her fellows. But Beauty is jealous, and illy bears the presence of a rival” – Thomas Jefferson
Malèna pays a gorgeous tribute to the island of Sicily in Italy with its sweeping and coastal views of the stunning region, and also raises perpetually interesting and timely points about what it is to be a woman, and be beautiful. Set in World War II, Malèna is the poignant and unique story of the titular character and her struggle with people’s reactions to her beauty. Her beauty – the type that creates content for legends and poetry – leaves her isolated in her home; jealousy pervades Malèna’s existence.
“Why didn’t she marry someone from her own village?”
“I’m sure no one wanted her.”
The story is satisfyingly displayed through two points of view. The first of these is from the young boy Renato, who, at 12 years old, becomes entirely consumed by Malèna and her beauty; she becomes a catalyst for what wordsmiths and philosophers may call Renato’s “sexual awakening”. I call it lust.
Regardless of his intentions, Renato childishly stalks (and, simultaneously guards) a lonely and possibly widowed Malèna (her husband is drafted to the war, leaving her in an wholly male-dominated town).
“They say she’s a seamstress.”
“But she’s so vulgar.”
It is here that the gender politics of Malèna – the paradoxes of what it means to be a sexual object, sexual property, and that of submissive, traditional womanhood – are raised.
“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The first two minutes of the film include a very powerful and tragic allegory, featuring a group of Renato’s friends and one ant. The boys hold a magnifying glass against the ant, directing the sun’s rays onto it as it attempts to crawl away:
“Think this ant knows it’s dead meat?”
Some very painful scenes arise a result of the town’s misunderstanding of Malèna – the women, jealous, boorish and quick to slander, are the servers of much torture to the innocent woman, as much as the men. A sex object in the eyes of men, and a whore in the eyes of her fellow women, Malèna is an incredibly depressing account of one woman’s crime – of being beautiful.
“Who here wants to bet that she’s sleeping all alone?”
What’s interesting is that Malèna does not, at any point of the film, showcase or seem aware of her beauty; wearing what suits her best and what she feels comfortable in, the townsmen and women take full advantage of the beautiful woman regardless of her actions. Being the daughter of a respected Latin teacher, having a husband drafted to East Africa in the War, looking after her father and maintaining her home are all admirable and noble traits but, are nothing but fuel for the fires of the town’s rumours.
“A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity” – Robert A. Heinlein
- Renato’s touching guardianship over Malèna
- Surprisingly funny film, despite the subject matter– the movie montages featuring Renato’s fantasy with Malèna are particularly chuckle-inducing
- Italian culture displayed at its most passionate (lots of shouting and hand gestures)
- Conveys the consuming and entirely pervasive nature of rumours, and the dangers of flocking with dangerous people
- Because of the nature of Renato’s fantasies – it’s difficult to tell which encounters (if any) with Malèna were real and as such, provokes thought
- Something in me (perhaps the annoying conservative) thinks a fourteen year old actor fondling with an adult woman and her naked body is a bit avant-garde, but that’s probably just me thinking this.
A heartbreaking and moving exploration into a young boy’s obsession and infatuation with a beautiful woman is a universal subject. Adolescence and youth are all explored in the film, but the most haunting aspect of Malèna is the unjust treatment of a pure and innocent woman (who almost becomes a martyr) as a result of poisonous, insecure people.