Malena delicately balances the sexual blossoming of a young boy with his near obsession for the title character. She is a beautiful young woman whose husband is off fighting in World War II. "Ma L'Amore No...," a short story by Luciano Vincenzoni inspired Malena, written and directed by Guiseppe Tornatore. The narrator is Renato, a 13-year-old boy caught in the awkward period between adolescence and adulthood. Malena becomes the focal point of his interest, and what she goes through mirrors his experiences. Malena (Monica Bellucci, Under Suspicion, Dobermann) is the ultimate in beauty, a gorgeous, unattainable woman that all the men lust after and all the women despise.

The gossip is vicious but Renato (Guiseppe Sulfaro) believes none of it. Many people believe that she takes on lovers, but Renato thinks it is all talk. He is desperately in love with her. He writes love letters to her which he immediately throws away, and he follows her at all hours of the day. He ditches school to ride ahead of her on his bike and then wait for her approach, only to start over again when she passes. He hides in the branches of a tree outside her window and watches her at night. Renato even slips into some whimsical fantasies, played out in black and white modeled after classic movies.

Things turn darker once the village learns that Malena's husband died in battle. Rumors of supposed lovers now run rampant, and to a certain degree, they begin to come true. The general attitude towards Malena turns increasingly sour, and the village views her with increasing scorn. Renato rationalizes every action she does, holding her up to his imaginary ideal, but slowly begins to realize the truth in what he sees. His final realization that she is indeed human is part of what helps him truly grow up. Tornatore (The Legend of 1900, The Star Maker) has a way of making some of the racier elements of Malena seem more innocent. Incidences where Renato masturbates in his bed are surprisingly tame instead of raunchy or disgusting. He goes a long way in helping Malena seem reminiscent of everyone's experiences with a first crush, although few people would go to the lengths that Renato did.

As a person, Malena is not complete, only because her entire character is limited to how Renato views her. Most of what Bellucci does is walk around with downcast eyes. Bellucci has the looks (she used to be a model) and has enough charisma to carry Malena's character when she does speak. She is unbelievably beautiful, yet seems (barely) in reach. Compared to her, then village and all its inhabitants are drab. The village looks quaint, but poor at the same time. Malena is an exotic beauty surrounded by normal people and things. She is something special in the middle of the ordinary. However, the movie as a whole never seems to rise above cute/nice.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 34 minutes, Italian with English subtitles, Rated R for sexuality/nudity, language, and some violence.

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