Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I thought I had my fill of coming-of-age films during the 1980s. But it seems those films were all cookie cutter Hollywood formula movies. In 2000, a fresh, sensual coming-of-age film came out of Italy that made the ones I remember seem incredibly tame. The sexual side of "coming-of-age" is more thoroughly examined in this recollection of the woman that brought out the man in all the adolescent boys of a small coastal town in Italy. Malena!

Malena was written by Luciano Vincenzoni who appears to narrate his own coming-of-age during World War II in Italy. He is much older, as evidenced by his own admission that he does not recall many of the loves he had over the years, but will never forget the day he met Malena. It was his twelfth birthday and Il Duce had just pronounced war against Britain. He got a new (used) bicycle for his birthday, but even a bigger surprise when he found out what an erection is. The character is Renato Amaroso (Giuseppe Sulfaro). He is introduced to Malena (the incredibly sensual Monica Bellucci) by his young friends. Renato has a streak of independence and breaks free from his gawking friends, secretly tracking Malena's every move. Renato is aggravated by the incessant gossip in the town regarding Malena, who is outcast simply for her unparallelled beauty. Tragedy claims Malena as a victim, but a happy ending might still be in her future if Renato finally mans up.

Vincenzon's story was beautifully adapted to screenplay form by Director Giuseppe Tornatore. Tornatore infused the story with rich dialogue that could have slipped into seedy tawdry exchanges, but instead elevates the film to artistic excellence. The dialogue was humorous and unique. The angst that our young hero experiences is palpable in the brutally honest writing and original viewpoints. Renato's father (Luciano Federico) provides some excellent comic relief as a caring but strict man with a surprising soft spot. The torrid nature of some encounters in this film is handled delicately and artistically, which sets this film apart. The plot is part tragic, part happy ending. An excellent film with the important elements for good drama.

Renato ages a few years during the course of this film. Beginning as a twelve year old boy, haircuts and attire help define his age. As he matures, the aging is accomplished simply with changing taste in clothing and even the way Renato carries himself. Sulfaro does an excellent job of creating the illusion of aging, although he is very mature for a twelve-year-old to start with. Sulfaro brings a strange level of timidity to a role that is, at times, aggressive. It is a nice balance that allows the boy to seem boyish, yet struggling with his emerging manhood. Sulfaro was exceptional in balancing the opposing traits of his character. The struggle seems genuine. A veteran performance. Bellucci does not have much in the way of dialogue. She doesn't need to. Her beauty is the central issue, and she provides that silently. When it comes time for Bellucci to create the strongest drama of the film, she does it with apparent ease. Her performance was shocking and brilliant. The film is carried by these two excellent performers, but special mention should be given to Federico who provided some great scenes. The cast was impeccable.

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