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Film / Malèna

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What is the most obvious course of action if you are a 12-year-old Sicilian boy when the fascist government is taking over and the Allies are bombing your village? Stalk the gorgeous madonna who just recently moved into town. That's basically the entire plot of Malèna, a 2000 Italian romantic drama written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) and starring Monica Bellucci.

Where you live in the world determines which version you can (legally) view of this film. In most of Europe the film features nudity and sexual content involving the boy, but the version seen in North America, the UK and other territories removes enough of this footage that some of the tropes that follow no longer apply.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Renato's father frequently hits him, but he is so over the top while doing so it is first and foremost played for laughs.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The vast majority of male characters just stare and lust over Malena. The only notable character who doesn't is her father.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Since the beginning you have the feeling that Malena has no interactions with almost anyone in town (especially the women) and she leaves her house only to visit her elderly father.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Malena.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Malena's husband turns out to be alive but he lost an arm.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Malena's husband Nino couldn't care less of what she did to survive the War and at the end he's boldly walking down the street with his beloved wife.
  • Back from the Dead: Her husband, at the end of the film.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Subverted since Maléna is not bad but the other women in the town have this attitude. The lawyer actually references the trope when defending her in court.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Even though Renato is actually in love with Malena, his actions to the people gossiping about her have undertones of this.
  • Bitch Alert: Every. Woman. In. The. Town. They're introduced making snide remarks about Malena as she walks around town, establishing that they're going to be a problem for her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The townswomen let Maléna back into their lives, she's reunited with her husband, and Renato finally talks directly to her... before she walks out of his life forever. The narrator (Renato as an adult) then tells us that he's known many women who asked him not to forget them, but the only woman who never asked - Maléna - is the only one he's never forgotten.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Maléna herself cycles through all three colours in the film.
  • Break the Cutie: The plot totally bends over to break Malena. It almost succeeds, specially when the other women beat her bloody purely for being prettier than them.
  • Brick Joke: Renato makes his father swear to buy him a pair of long pants when Il Duce dies. After quite a while when it's confirmed Mussolini has been overthrown, we see Renato getting a pair of pants made for him.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Used early on with Maléna to distinguish her from the other women by her white dress.
  • Character Title: Malena. While it is Renato's story.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Renato tries to defend Malena's honour a couple of times despite lusting over her. Notably, he gets revenge on a woman who was gossiping about Malena by peeing in her pocket book.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Maléna. The film is more actually Renato's story and how she fits into it.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The men of the town, by Maléna.
  • Erotic Dream: Renato has them about Maléna.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Maléna's long dark hair represents her purity and innocence. When she cuts it and dyes it red it is symbolic of her becoming a prostitute. The blonde hair then symbolises her giving herself over to the Germans. Her natural brown hair has grown back but not completely at the end, showing how she still carries the scars of what happened to her.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Malena when she's lying topless on her bed. Except she's being raped by her lawyer.
    • Also Malena when she is dragged into the middle of the town in her lingerie and beaten savagely. She's half nude but also covered in blood and crying.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Played realistically - because everyone thinks Malena is an adulterous whore, she can't find a job and eventually has no other choice but play along that perception just to feed herself.
  • Foreshadowing: When Maléna walks through the town as a redhead for the first time, one woman can be heard saying "I'd like to cut off all that hair". Oh dear...
  • Gossipy Hens: A lethal example. The women of the town start out merely unkind before they end up humiliating Malena in the street over their jealousy of her.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Heavily implied that the majority of townswomen are jealous that their husbands lust over Malena.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It's really hard to find a scene in which Renato's father is calm.
  • Hidden Depths: Renato's father, jerkass as he is, is hinted to disapprove of Fascism, given that he insults Mussolini.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Malena is a kind woman who is forced to turn to prostitution when her father dies.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Renato is about fourteen and thus has several sexual fantasies about Malena. Her first scene even explicitly shows him getting a boner as she walks by.
  • Hypocrite: Entire town of them.
  • Imagine Spot: Renato has a hilarious one where he imagines his teacher is Malena and says "is it true you're getting married", only for the elderly woman to angrily throw him out of the class.
  • Karma Houdini: The women of the town who beat up Malena in public and her lawyer who rapes her. There are also former Fascist dignitaries and deputies, who are left untouched, while mocking Nino, who served as a soldier and lost his arm while they were living comfortable lives thanks to political connections.
  • Large Ham: Renato's father during each and every of his angry outbursts. And there is also the lawyer giving defensive oration in the court.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: The eponymous Maléna. Renato sees her as a Madonna, while the townspeople see her as a Whore. The movie serves to show that either side is just a fallacy - as Malena is neither in real life.
  • Male Gaze: Justified, since Renato's lust over Malena is a huge plot point, and his sexual awakening is key.
  • Mood Whiplash: The entire film goes back and forth between growing-up comedy and serious war drama. Most notably, the announcement that the war is over is a happy scene that turns savage when the women of the town decide to humiliate and beat Malena.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Maléna is this to the town, as the most beautiful woman there.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Played for laughs when Renato is "possessed" and his mother holds him this way in the church. Renato's father even lampshades that it looks like a recreation of Pieta for the poor, having enough of humiliation already.
  • P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl: Just look at the poster. Renato is the protagonist, but he's barely visible from behind Malena.
  • Precocious Crush: Renato's obsession with Malena, since she's a grown, married woman and he's just an adolescent boy.
  • Rape as Drama: Poor Malena, who gets raped by the lawyer who won her case.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: The camera quickly cuts to Renato just as the lawyer begins to fondle Malena's breasts.
  • Right Through His Pants: Averted as the 12-year-old Renato has very little modesty in the sex scene, but that is cut out in many versions of the film.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Renato throws Mussolini's bust down the stairs of his school. The very next scene radio speaker announces Il Duce was executed and the boy gets the promised pair of pants.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Downplayed. Renato's father is very open about his son being a Hormone-Addled Teenager who simply needs to get laid to stop acting like a weirdo. Eventually, he's so sick of the boy's antics that he arranges for him to go to the local brothel.
  • Sexophone: When Malena walks down the main street as a redhead, the main theme is performed on a saxophone.
  • Shout-Out: Renato's dreams are shout outs to many films such as Bonnie and Clyde, King Kong (1933) and Cleopatra.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: The story of Malena's life. Because of her beauty she's despised by all the women in town, she's lusted after by everyone else and even gets dragged into court to defend herself on trumped up charges of adultery.
  • Team Power Walk: The trope happens in the final sequence, when Nino and Malena boldly walk together, not giving a single damn to the townspeople.
  • Traumatic Haircut:
    • Malena cuts her hair into a bob when she becomes a prostitute. It qualifies because it marks that she must become what everyone in town thinks she is to survive.
    • A more straightforward example is when she's beaten up in the street and sheared by the other women.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Malena's father is an old deaf man and not in a Silver Fox way. Malena is Monica Bellucci.