Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malèna (2000)

Malèna, set in a little town in Sicily during WWII, combines a coming of age story with a war-time story. The first time I watched it, it stunned me. I still liked it a lot the second time but since the story has a tragic ending, it’s more intense to watch it for the first time.

Malèna (Monica Bellucci) is the most beautiful and seductive woman in the little Sicilian town of Castelcuto. Her husband is somewhere in Africa, fighting for Mussolini, while she is left behind in a very hostile climate in which all the men try to have an affair with her and the women hate her for her looks. All the men see her as an object, with the exception of a young boy who falls in love with her. We see the story through his eyes. He is so besotted with her that he follows her around, sneaks out of his house at night and spies on her.

She is a favourite conversational topic and gossip and rumours follow her wherever she goes. People talk very bad about her behind her back. They call her a whore and say she betrays her husband and has lovers. Only the young Renato knows this isn’t so. But when her husband is reported dead, there isn’t any protection for Malèna anymore. She can’t find a job, she has no money and food is scare and whatever she does, the town, reigned by men, turns on her and finally forces her into prostitution.

When the war is over, the women take revenge on her, not because she sold her body to the Germans but because all their husbands lusted after her.

Tornatore captures the atmosphere and hysteria of an Italian city during WWII very well. How they all cheered Mussolini and pretended to know nothing of it when the Americans arrived. The hypocrisy, the paranoia, the double standards. Malèna has the extreme misfortune of not fitting in. Too stylish, too good-looking, not very sociable nor talkative. This causes the jealousy of the women who have no liberties or power and the hatred of the men who treat women like objects. This society is ruled by fanatic Catholicism and the double standards that go with it.

I don’t want to give away too much but the destiny of Malèna which is extreme is very sad and to a certain extent quite typical for women during that time in Italy. Many women, especially in Italy, were forced into prostitution when their husbands were gone or dead.

Malèna is an extremely esthetic movie, beautiful pictures, matching music, and of course there is Monica Bellucci whose beauty brings Malèna to life. The sexual awakening and infatuation of Renato is touching and extremely funny at the same time. It clashes with his mother’s prudery and his father’s strictness.  The end of the story is tragic and infuriating.

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Is The Fallen (2004) The Final Sacrifice or Letters from the Dead?

It does happen quite often that I like movies less than most people but not in this case. People either like or hate The Fallen but there seem to be much more who do not like it. I don’t really understand why but I’m not sure I have seen The Fallen. I have watched The Final Sacrifce which can’t even be found on IMDb. An amazon reviewer states that The Final Sacrifice is a remake of The Fallen by the same director with the same actors??? I seem to remember having seen the beginning of the movie a few years back but something stopped me and when I started watching the other day it took quite a while until I got that I was watching The Fallen. Meanwhile I found out that Ari Traub directed and earlier version called Letters from the Dead (2003). Very confusing. Be it as it may, I hope one of my readers knows more. In any case, the movie I have seen, called The Final Sacrifice, was not a bad movie at all. On the very contrary.

It is almost the end of WWII. We are in Northern Italy, in the Alps, in some outpost guarded by Italian and German troops who do not get along well. The movie is trilingual (which might have been a reason for the lack of appreciation) and for once the actors are of the “correct nationality”. No silly American flavored Italian.

The Germans try to defend their line against the attacking Americans. The Italians who should help, are, apart from an aristocratic officer, not that keen on assisting. The people and villages around them are their people, their families. More and more they think it is unjustified that they have been dragged into this war by their government. Many of the farmers around are selling goods on the black market, others join the Resistance.

When the Italian army and Italian Resistance meet, it’s a sad affair. Usually no one shoots and a few soldiers desert but as soon as the Germans turn up, there will be severe punishment for every one.

The Americans seem to be enjoying their stay in Italy. It isn’t as rough as Africa, nor as bloody as France or Belgium. At least not at this point in time. And they know they are winning which helps as well.

The Final Sacrifice of the title is a last desperate attempt of a German officer, who was a real moron all through the movie, to fight off the enemy almost on his own. The orders are to guard the post no matter what. Knowing the order makes no sense and the end is coming, he tries to save at least his men.

Admittedly the American parts were not that perfect, the German point of view was on the sentimental side but, and that’s why this movie gets 3.5 from me, the Italian point of view is extremely well told. It shows how delicate, complicated, desperate their situation was. The movie is also in a clichéd way funny, the difference between the Germans and the Italians leads to one slapstick-like clash after the other.

As I said, I liked it, it isn’t fantastic and will not make a Top 100 but it is a worthy attempt at showing a part of history that hasn’t been explored enough, namely the role of Italy in WWII.

I suggest you watch it and come back and tell me how you liked it.

Spike Lee’s Miracle at St.Anna (2008) The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Massacre at St. Anna

I would say that Miracle at St.Anna is one of the best American war movies and the best American WWII movie of the last ten years. I was surprised to see how good it is, as critics and public have been equally harsh. I assume they are biased because of its director. The end is corny but overall it is absolutely excellent and tells a lesser known story in a very engaging way.

The movie starts somewhat surprisingly in 1982 New York. A modest post-office worker kills a man who buys stamps from him. He shoots him with a German Luger. The incident attracts a lot of attention, even more so when they discover the head of an Italian Renaissance statue in his apartment.

Next we are in Italy, in 1944. The 92nd company, the so-called Buffalo soldiers, a company consisting almost only of African-American soldiers gets under heavy German fire. A small group is separated from the rest and makes their way to a little mountain village that is surrounded by Germans.

One of the soldiers, a huge man, saves a little boy who seems to be ill and slightly crazy. He takes the disturbed little kid with him, all together they find refuge in the house of some Italians, one of them a Fascist. The Germans aren’t really looking for the Buffalo soldiers, they are hunting Italian partisans. And the partisans are hunting them. The Italians know, and so it seems does the little boy, that there is a traitor among them.

While they stay at the village, some of the soldiers realize that the Italians treat them much better than the white people back home. And they also treat them better than some of the white American civilians living in Italy. There is a particularly infuriating scene with an American bar owner who doesn’t want to serve black people. They fight for their country but their country doesn’t appreciate them.

The core scene of the movie is the massacre at St. Anna, a true story, in which hundreds of Italian civilians got killed by the Nazis because the Partisans have killed some of the Germans. The Germans have been told by their command that they have to shoot 10 Italians for one dead German.

Miracle at St. Anna is very rich. It combines a multitude of elements and many stories that circle around different relationships but still feels like a whole. It’s sad, it’s moving and it is very suspenseful as it also works like a thriller. We really want to know why the guy killed the other one. There aren’t many good WWII movies showing the African-American participation and there aren’t many good ones on Italy during WWII. This covers both. And there is also some fighting, for those who want this from their war movies.

Miracle at St. Anna is also part of the Children in War Movies List and African-American Soldiers in war movies.

For those of you who like to watch TV series, the actor who played Shane in The Shield and the guy called “Omar” in The Wire are in this movie.

This is a highly watchable and very original movie that can be named together with other great WWII movies like Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. 5/5