Rated: R (Italian with English subtitles)

Critics always complain that American audiences are not as sophisticated as European ones. And to some extent that may be true. But that presupposes that the European film in discussion at the time the charge is made is a good one, or at least one befitting American sensibilities.

In the case of Malèna, I don’t feel this is a film that American audiences will be rushing to see. It does not have an appealing subject matter for one thing.

It’s 1941 in a sleepy little village in Sicily. The Fascists are in power. It’s hard making ends meet and people can’t buy decent food and the little they have is rationed. But that’s just a small part of the story. This one revolves around 13-year old Renato, a boy who becomes so obsessed with the most beautiful woman in town named Malèna, a woman every man wants and every other woman despises, that he spends his days stalking her and his nights masturbating (under covers) as he fantasizes about her.

Highly disturbing is the way the young boys and men “discuss” her attributes and the belief by every man and woman in town, save for Renato, that Malèna is a whore. They certainly treat her as one, hissing as she walks by, muttering under their breaths to each other about who she must be seeing behind her husband’s back as he fights for his country oversees. This accepted Latin behavior is fairly repulsive and became a turn off right from the start. Anyway, at this time, Malèna’s an innocent who’s treated badly simply because she’s unwilling to present herself as the other women of the town who wear sensible shoes and dark boring clothing.

But Malèna’s situation worsens and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that she does indeed become a prostitute after her husband is believed killed and she must hire a lawyer to defend herself of trumped-up charges. Then, after many months of ill treatment by the other women in town, none who will sell her good food, Malèna must further compromise her morality. And, when the Germans come to town, she joins forces with another woman of ill repute and what little dignity she might have had left is completely gone. All this is seen through the eyes of Renato who worships her from afar, and watches as the town finally turns its wrath upon Malèna.

Monica Bellucci stars as Malèna and Renato is played by Giuseppe Sulfaro. Director Giuseppe Tornatore also did “Cinema Paradiso” and “The Legend of 1900”, a film which last year Lotta nominated for an Academy Award – it was that good.

Lotta says: Malèna was slow, repetitive and frankly, nothing special to warrant attention in this country. Rated R for nudity, sexuality, violence.

Malèna was premiered and reviewed on 12/12/00 in time for Academy Award consideration. it will be released in January 2001.