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Malena

Year: 2001
Director: Guiseppe Tornatore
Writer: Guiseppe Tornatore
Cast: Monica Belluci
As lush, lavish and beautiful as the delectable Monica Belluci herself is, Malena encapsulates so many moods, emotions and reminiscences that we can all relate to.

So full of romance and drama it would have been a mushy soup of melodrama in lesser hands, but balanced with enough plotting and (seemingly out of place to realise but fitting perfectly) terror.

Cinema Paradiso director Tornatore's scripting and direction so perfectly capture the memories of a boy's first love and the romance in all of us, the heady mix of first glimpses, dreams, fantasies and devotion we rarely recapture in adulthood.

It's not just Renato's story though - Malena is a beautiful woman in the small Sicilian town he lives in during World War II - Il Duce is rousing revolutionaries on the radio, but all Renato can think about is getting the chance to win the heart of the new teacher's daughter.

Everyone else in town hates her - the men because they can't control their desire for her, the women because of the unwitting control she has over men. As one of her many suitors says at one point; her only crime is her beauty.

When he husband is reported killed at the front, tongues start wagging all the more, but Renato keeps watching, following her around town, dreaming of winning such a prize. Amid all this, the Allies start bombing the area, and fear reigns.

Renato is horrified at his beautiful Malena having to whore herself (in more than one sense of the word) for survival as rations become more scarce - including letting German soldiers entertain her. He is the only one in town to whom she is still a flawless jewel, and ironically, this 13 year old boy who she doesn't even know is the only one who loves her.

When the Americans liberate the town, the fervour breaks and the women drag Malena from her room, beat her in the street and drive her away.

Reanto sees all this helplessly, terrified to his soul. Soon after, her husband comes back - merely injured - looking for his wife. Renato becomes the lynchpin in their reunion, telling him where she's gone.

When the couple return, the renewed respect of her restored marital status makes the women who humiliated her and drove her away welcome her back, and when you wish she'd spit at them, she is just as sweet back.

The one and only time Renato ever speaks to her is helping her pick up groceries she's dropped. She barely gives him a second glance, and while both sequences are highly unsatisfying, you realise that it's done the story so much good instead of the kind of heartwarming ending a Hollywood director would tack on.

It could only be a European film - it captures the beauty and terror of a lovely country being bombarded by war as well as the yearnings of a tender heart and the memories that live with us the rest of our lives. Gorgeous in every respect.

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