Loren is Cesira, a widow and mother to a pubescent girl, Rosetta, in 1943 Italy, as the Allies are slowly fighting their way up the peninsula. After an Allied bombing raid on Rome, Cesira takes her daughter out of the city and to her hometown in the Italian hills. They are safe from bombing but the privations of war hit the countryside as well, as food grows short and the front lines slowly approach. Cesira draws attention from the village's local intellectual, Michele (Belmondo), a serious young man with socialist sympathies. A romance has just started to bloom when the fortunes of war intervene.
Two Women established Sophia Loren, already world famous as a sex symbol, as a serious actress as well. It won her an Academy Award for Best Actress, and she remains to this day one of only two women to win an acting Oscar for a performance not in English, the other being Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose.
This work contains the following tropes:
- America Won World War II: Played straight, as an American column rolls through the village, to the delight of all the locals. Then subverted when Cesira and Rosetta have a tragic encounter with some Moroccan colonial troops fighting in the Free French ranks.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Michele finally delivers his after a long talk about how he isn't a man because he doesn't have the courage.
- Defiled Forever/Fate Worse than Death: How Cesira herself characterizes her daughter's rape, as she screams out to a passing American jeep.Cesira: You ruined my little daughter forever! Now she's worse than dead. No, I'm not mad, I'm not mad! Look at her! And tell me if I am mad! Rotten crazy bastards!
- Downer Ending: Cesira and Rosetta are gang-raped. Rosetta afterwards is deeply damaged (see Promiscuity After Rape below). Then they get word that Michele was killed by the Germans. The only note of hope is the cathartic embrace between a weeping Rosetta and Cesira as the camera zooms out.
- Driving a Desk: Done very badly when a truck driver gives mother and daughter a ride.
- Fan Disservice: A peasant woman that Cesira encounters in a bombed-out town exposes her breast, and then offers them her milk, because her baby was just killed by the Germans.
- Heroic BSoD/Thousand-Yard Stare: Rosetta disassociates for a while after she is gang-raped.
- Hope Spot: The Americans roll through town, and it seems like there will be a Happy Ending. Then Cesira and Rosetta meet tragedy on the way back to Rome.
- Male Gaze: Cesira is irritated when a man on the train looks down her blouse.
- Mama Bear: Cesira is determined to protect her daughter, and stares down the Italian fascist militiaman who starts creeping on Rosetta—but she can't save Rosetta from the Moroccan soldiers.
- "Number of Objects" Title: Referring to the mother and daughter pair of protagonists.
- Playing Gertrude: In-tandem with Underage Casting. In the original novel, Cesira is middle-aged (the role was originally offered to 51-year old Anna Magnani) and Rosetta is a teenager. At the time of filming, Sophia Loren was 25 and Eleonora Brown was 11, though they both look older.
- Promiscuity After Rape: After she is gang-raped, Rosetta starts giving sexual favors to older men in return for stuff like nylons.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Some arguing and sniping between Cesira and her friend Giovanni ends in sex.
- Stock Footage: Quite obvious with a grainy old shot of a Luftwaffe plane that strafes the American column.
- Those Wacky Nazis: A few desperate Germans are about as evil as you'd expect soldiers of the Wehrmacht to be, dragging off Michele at gunpoint to guide them over the mountains. They kill him offscreen.
- Train-Station Goodbye: After Giovanni agrees to look after her grocery store while she's away, this trope is played straight, with Giovanni seeing Cesira and Rosetta off on the train.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Cesira keeps the bankroll she left Rome with—it's a big wad of money, but Sophia Loren had a lot of room.
- War Is Hell: Cesira and Rosetta can't escape, and suffer terribly.
- Where da White Women At?: One might watch the scene where Cesira and Rosetta are gang-raped by Moroccan colonial troops of the Free French Forces, and find an unpleasant racial tinge to the scene, but the rape and pillage conducted by these troops in the aftermath of the battle of Monte Cassino became notorious enough to get its own name (though theres debates over whether it was embellished). It's called the "Marocchinate".