Hollow man (2001)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 1, 2001 @ Las Vegas CityLife.

Giuseppe Tornatore's Malena lacks emotional resonance

For those of us who love Cinema Paradiso, the news that its Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore and his musical soulmate Ennio Morricone were getting back together to do another coming-of-age film, Malena, gave us tantalizing hope. But one of lifes cruel lessons is that you seldom repeat wonder. In this case, Malena falls depressingly short.

Its too bad, because the film has a promising premise: a coming-of-age movie that's also an allegory -- characters representing World War II Italy. Beginning in 1940, the story is set in fictional Castelcuto, Sicily, and is told from the point of view of 12-year-old Renato Amoroso (Giuseppi Sulfaro), a youth who is experiencing the pangs of growing up. He sees the lovely adult Malena (Monica Bellucci) for the first time when she comes to town to take care of her Latin Teacher father while her husband is away at war. Renato is smitten by the her; he follows her adoringly and watches her voyeuristically. Eventually she turns to prostitution, which makes an interesting analogy to Italy and the war.

One of the delights of Cinema Paradiso is the chemistry between the two main characters -- the boy and the movie projectionist -- but Malena is devoid of chemistry between the two main characters. Malena is beautiful but she is distant, and the boy is merely earnest. The only chemistry is between adolescent Renato and his penis. He and Malena dont meet or talk until near the end. Shes supposed to be a vision for him, but theirs is a non-relationship. Malena is no Laura; it has no mystery.

Since the characters are broadly drawn, they depend on their actors to humanize them. Bellucci has beauty but not enough personality. She is more model than actress. Sulfaro was cast after a talent search. He is fairly pedestrian in a part that demands inspiration.

The film is heavy-handed and contrived. The most damaging contrivance is near the end when the women who loathe and violate Malena instantly turn around and welcome her. It should be a moving moment, but since its so sudden and unmotivated, it comes across as hollow, and deprives the movie of any emotional resonance. Like one of Italys master directors, Federico Fellini, Tornatore tries to create a film of varied tones, from crudity to magical reverie, but he doesnt have the masters gift.

Miramax is pushing Malena for the Academy Awards. In the last two weeks, both Tornatore and Morricone have appeared separately at screenings of the film in Los Angeles. Tough luck, Miramax. Cinema Paradiso, which won the Oscar for best foreign film for 1988, is one of the film worlds treasures; Malena is just another movie.

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