Is it true that beauty will save the world: analysis of the drama “Malena”
Countries: Italy, USA
Year of production: 2000
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Actors: Giuseppe Sulfaro, Monica Bellucci, Luciano Federico and others
The plot of the film “Malena” with Monica Bellucci (“Malèna”), filmed by the world-famous Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore, is presented as a retelling of the events of the main character’s childhood, which fell on the years of the Second World War. However, he does not tell about military operations, but about the tragedy of one beautiful woman who became a black sheep for the population of the Sicilian town.
What is the movie about
Renato Amorosso is a thirteen-year-old teenager who dreams of joining the company of fellow cyclists. The father gives the boy a bicycle and this becomes his pass. The guys get together after school and discuss a girl named Malena, who drives the town crazy with her beauty.
All men dream of intimacy with her. When Malena walks down the street, they do not take their eyes off the girl. And their wives spread rumors about the promiscuity of the beauty, who, in the absence of her husband, who went to war, allegedly went into all serious trouble.
Frame from the film.
The company of teenagers, including the main character, also does not miss the opportunity to once again admire Malena and share erotic fantasies among their participants. Renato becomes obsessed with this woman. He secretly watches her day and night, and when alone, he imagines her naked in his arms.
It becomes clear to Renato that, contrary to rumors, Malena lives alone and does not let anyone near her, remaining faithful to her husband. But then the news of his death comes, and the men surrounding the girl begin to behave much more arrogantly and literally pounce on her. Women gossip with even greater enthusiasm, and teenagers openly mock her deaf father, who, after receiving a note accusing Malena of prostitution, turns away from her.
After a skirmish between two people who want to get Malena, the inhabitants of the town accuse her of having a relationship with a married dentist and arrange a show trial. The lawyer, a fat, unkempt and dirty type, defends the girl in court and coerces her into intimacy as payment for his services. He is going to marry Malena, but his controlling mother does not give her consent.
Renato seeks to protect Malena from attacks, but can only secretly annoy her offenders and sometimes he himself becomes their victim. Prayers in the church with an appeal to the saint for help do not help either.
As a result of the bombing of the city, Malena’s father dies. The girl’s situation is getting worse. She, being in a difficult psychological state, in need of food, ceases to resist the harassment of men and enters into a relationship with German officers.
Renato, meanwhile, continues to literally rave about Malena: he imagines himself a hero of Hollywood films, saving his beloved, and constantly masturbates. His parents, seeing the condition of their son, resort to the help of doctors, clergy and even a prostitute who looks like Malena.
The hatred of the inhabitants for the girl reaches its peak. When American troops enter the town, the women throw Malena out into the street and beat her severely. Renato can only watch helplessly. The girl leaves on the train.
Frame from the film.
After some time, Malena’s husband arrives in the town, whom everyone considered dead. He is trying to find out at least something about the fate of his wife, but people either simply hide the truth from him, or openly mock him. And only Renato, with the help of a letter, informs him that the girl has left.
A year later, the astonished residents of the town see that Malena has returned with her husband. She is no longer as beautiful as before, which women note with pleasure. They show favor to her. Everyone, including Malena, acts like nothing happened. Renato finally decides to say at least a word to his beloved and, going up to her, says: “Happiness to you, Señora Malena,” after which he takes off on a bicycle.
In the finale, the words of the matured Renato are heard that since then he has had many women, but only Malena will remain the one whom he will always remember.
The meaning of the film
It’s worth saying right away that the search for the meaning of this picture takes everyone in his own direction – and it seems that the director intended it that way. Giuseppe Tornatore in his films strives to combine the style of auteur cinema and the mainstream, perhaps with the predominance of the former.
The goal here is not so much to convey an idea to the viewer, but to stun him and make him think. And, judging by the reviews, Tornatore succeeds. Someone makes a serious psychological analysis of the film, someone accuses the creators of vulgarity, but few remain indifferent.
Frame from the film.
If you pay attention to what catches the eye of everyone when viewing the picture, then this is, first of all, the beauty of the heroine performed by Monica Bellucci and, secondly, the deliberate caricature of everything that happens. Both of them are not just constantly emphasized – this, in fact, is what the film consists of. Erotic and steamy scenes abound here. You have to wade through them to feel the underlying tragedy.
This film language was clearly not chosen by chance. Based on the same plot, one and the same description of the behavior of the characters could make an erotic film, a farce comedy or a historical drama.
But the director chose to make an explosive mixture out of all this, which in general can be described as a caustic satire on society disguised as other genres, and specifically on Italian or even Sicilian society.
As in many classic satirical works, there are practically no goodies here. Malena can hardly be considered such, since she does not manifest herself as an active character – in all episodes she appears exclusively as a victim of a ruthless crowd.
Renato does not count either – his lust-sated behavior is not much different from the behavior of other men in the town, and the actions to save the girl are taken only in his imagination. His only act that influenced further events was letters to Malena’s husband. But it is worth noting that he led to a fake “happy ending” – more precisely, to the final moral reprisal against the heroine in the end.
So, we are essentially a work that ridicules the vices of society and at the same time is horrified by them. According to Monica Bellucci, to whom this film brought worldwide fame, she understands its meaning as follows: people can forgive intelligence and wealth, but beauty will never be forgiven.
Frame from the film.
Perhaps this is the idea, but it is unlikely that the director laid in the concept of beauty only the physical attractiveness of the heroine, on which such emphasis is placed – this is just an artistic device. Rather, we are talking about beauty according to Dostoevsky, about the one that will “save the world” – about spiritual beauty, about kindness and love. This is sorely lacking in the film: the crowd, throughout the story, pounces on the victim and eventually absorbs it, reducing it to its level.
No wonder the time of action of the picture was chosen. Here you can see the reflection of philosophizing about the complex of guilt of former respectable citizens of Germany, Italy and other countries who fought on the side of the Nazis – supposedly unexpectedly found themselves among those doing evil. And the director is categorical here: there is no surprise, society has always been like this, people are not far from their primitive ancestors.
The hidden meaning can be seen in the very title of the film. Many people associate the name of the heroine with the name of the biblical character Mary Magdalene, who, according to the description in the Catholic tradition, is a repentant harlot. This is also irony and satire. After all, Malena in the film has nothing to repent of. Society itself invented its sinfulness and itself brought it to life.
The meaning of the ending of the film “Malena”, despite the seeming well-being, is rather sad for the heroine. They stopped mocking the girl, she found peace, but she lost herself – she merged with the crowd. No one, including the protagonist with his mixture of noble intentions and lust, could protect her.
In favor of the fact that the meaning is exactly this, says a lot of details scattered throughout the film. For example, at the beginning, the heroine’s dress is white. Gradually, the clothes become black and white, at the most desperate moment – completely black. At the very end, it is gray, which emphasizes the merging with the crowd.
The character himself, perhaps, will still find happiness, as far as possible after everything experienced, and Renat’s wish will thus come true. But this does not cancel the director’s verdict for the crowd.