If you have seen the poster of this movie, the chances are you have prejudged it. The international version of the poster has Monica Bellucci looking into you intensely while holding her ankle. The look is enough to melt the heart of men. When you see a boy in the background holding a bicycle, there are different themes forming in our brains like coming off age, taboo relations, erotica, etc. The movie is in fact far more beautiful and disturbing than the poster. Beauty can come in handy. Unfortunately, Malèna(Monica Bellucci) falls a victim of beauty, her own! Guiseppe Tornatore tells the sad story of Malèna without being overboard with sentiments. On many occasions, we start off by smiling and laughing but end up with a sad feeling once we introspect on the events. The above is possible because of the way Guiseppe Tornatore has packaged his message with an intelligent diversion provided by humor. He is walking a tightrope here because humor carries the danger of diluting the message. Fortunately, the message is never diluted.
Set against the backdrop of World War II, the sad story of Malèna unfold through the eyes of 12-year-old boy Renato(Guiseppe Sulfaro). The story starts when Mussolini declare war against the allies and ends during the period Italy begins to recover after the end of the war. On the fateful day when Mussolini declares war, Renato gets a new bicycle, and he sees the ethereal beauty Malèna. Malèna is living alone in a city in Italy. Here husband has gone away for taking part in the war. For a growing boy with an ever increasing supply of testosterone, Malèna becomes his unrequited love and also an obsession. He starts following her. While Renato stalks Malèna, he comes to know the true colors of his townsfolk. The women are suspicious of her beauty, and the men want her. The suspicions and the desires make the townsfolk treat Malèna with contempt. All these leads to Renato learning valuable lessons of life.
Guiseppe Tornatore tells us the evil lurking in the minds of men and women. The society is hasty in maligning and condemning innocent people without much second thought. Sometimes, the rumors generated by the society end up becoming real because of the helpless state of the victim. Everyone around Malèna abuses her, but none of them stands for her when she needs them. To make the lust repulsive, Guiseppe Tornatore chooses the ugliest of characters who eventually uses Malèna for their needs. The movie has excellent photography. The bicycle and Renato are mostly in the frame. Most of the times, these two glide into the scene and stop gracefully. The frames are tight, and there are no distractions. Even with the presence of Monica Bellucci and a heart-tugging performance by Guiseppe Sulfaro, it turns out to be a director's movie. Monica Bellucci has nothing much to do other than to look pretty for which she doesn't have to put in a lot of efforts. There is a lot of focus on her body to bring out desire and also revulsion. The latter emotion arises out of Malèna's inappropriate mental state.
Be warned. The poster is deceiving. But the movie is excellent.