Theatrical release poster
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Produced by Harvey Weinstein
Screenplay by Giuseppe Tornatore
Story by Luciano Vincenzoni
Starring Monica Bellucci
Giuseppe Sulfaro
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Lajos Koltai
Edited by Massimo Quaglia
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • 27 October 2000 (2000-10-27) (Italy)
Running time
109 minutes
(United States cut: 92 minutes)
Country Italy
Language Italian
Box office $14,493,284

Malèna is a 2000 Italian romantic drama film starring Monica Bellucci and Giuseppe Sulfaro. It was directed and written by Giuseppe Tornatore from a story by Luciano Vincenzoni.[1] It won the Grand Prix at the 2001 Cabourg Film Festival.[2]


The film begins in Sicily in 1940 during World War II just as Italy enters the war. A young boy, 12-year-old Renato, experiences three major events in one day: First, Italy goes to war; second, he gets a new bike; and third, he first sees the beautiful lady, Malena. Malena's husband, Nino Scordia, has been taken away to fight in Africa and Malena is left alone with her father, an elderly and almost-deaf man. Malena tries to cope with her loneliness, as the town she has moved to tries to deal with this beautiful woman who gets the attention of all the local men, including Renato. However, in spite of the gossip, she continues to be faithful to her husband. Renato becomes obsessed with Malena and starts fantasizing about her. His fantasies become increasingly elaborate and he becomes obsessed with the shy young woman, peeping in her window often as she waits sadly for her beloved husband to return. Renato eventually steals Malena's underwear and begins to fantasize about her in bed, to the horror of his parents. They do everything to stop his behavior, but it is all in vain.

Malena soon receives word that her husband has been killed and her grief consumes her. Renato continues to watch Malena as she suffers from grief. Malena is shunned by the townspeople who begin to believe the worst about her, simply because of her beauty. Women spread terrible rumors and men encourage the rumors by lurking around the poor widow, who does nothing to defend herself; she just wants to be left alone.

She visits her father regularly and helps him with his chores, but when a slanderous letter reaches his hands, their relationship suffers a catastrophic blow. Things only get worse when the wife of the local dentist takes Malena to court, accusing her of having an affair with her husband, but Malena is acquitted. The Court is told that Malena is being harassed for being beautiful, as other ladies feel insecure and threatened by her. The only man that the lonely and sad Malena has a romance with, an army officer, is sent away after saying he and Malena were "just friends". The betrayal cuts deeply, but Malena says nothing to condemn the officer. After her acquittal, Malena's lawyer Centorbi comes to her home and asks for a dance and during the dance, using her unpaid legal fee as leverage, rapes her while Renato peeps in from outside her house.

Renato increasingly sees himself as Malena's protector, but he does not even realize that his views of her are little better than those of the townspeople. While he asks God to protect her and personally performs little acts of vengeance against those who slander Malena, he takes no time to realize how Malena herself feels. He even rationalizes the rape as a choice Malena made to pay her legal fee.

Meanwhile, the war reaches Sicily and the town is bombed. Malena's father dies and she is left completely alone. Desperate for food, Malena's poverty finally forces her to become a prostitute. She cuts off her long black hair and begins to dress provocatively. When the German army comes to town, Malena gives herself to Germans as well. The townspeople smugly watch as she is forced into the role of whore; they are almost more content now than when she was a virtuous young wife. Renato sees her in the company of two German officers and faints. His mother and the older ladies think that he has been possessed and take him to church for an exorcism. His father, however, takes him to a brothel; Renato has sex with one of the prostitutes while fantasizing that she is Malena.

As Sicily is liberated by the Americans in 1943, the women gather and publicly beat and humiliate Malena viciously, forcefully shaving her hair and stripping her in the square. A depressed Malena leaves for Messina to escape further persecution. A few days later, Nino Scordia, Malena's husband, returns looking for her, to the shock of all the residents. He finds his house occupied by people displaced by the war and nobody willing to tell him what became of his wife. Renato tells him through a letter about Malena's whereabouts, the fact that she always loved only him, and the lie in all the rumors about her cheating. Nino goes to Messina to find her and, a year later, they are seen walking down the street, Nino proudly arm-in-arm with his still-beautiful wife. The villagers, especially the women, astonished at her courage, begin to talk to "Signora Scordia" with respect. Though still beautiful, they think of her as no threat, claiming that she has wrinkles near her eyes and has put on some weight. Malena, however, is as shy as ever and wary of the attention after her experiences.

In the last scene near the beach, Renato helps her pick up some oranges that had dropped from her shopping bag. Afterwards, he wishes her "Buona fortuna, Signora Malena" (good luck, Mrs. Malena) and rides off on his bicycle, looking back at her for a final time, as she walks away. This is the first and only time they speak to each other in the movie. As this final scene fades out, an adult Renato's voice-over reflects that he has not forgotten Malena, even after the passage of so many years. He says, according to the English subtitles, "Time has passed and I have loved many women. And as they've held me close and asked if I will remember them, I believed in my heart that I would. But the only one I've never forgotten is the one who never asked ... Malena"


Critical reception

When first released, Variety wrote: "Considerably scaled down in scope and size from his English-language existential epic, The Legend of 1900, Giuseppe Tornatore's Malena is a beautifully crafted but slight period drama that chronicles a 13-year-old boy's obsession with a small-town siren in World War II Sicily. Combining a coming-of-age story with the sad odyssey of a woman punished for her beauty, the film ultimately has too little depth, subtlety, thematic consequence or contemporary relevance to make it a strong contender for arthouse crossover. But its erotic elements and nostalgic evocation of the same vanished Italy that made international hits of Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino could supply commercial leverage."[3]

Film critic Roger Ebert compared the film to Federico Fellini's work, writing: "Fellini's films often involve adolescents inflamed by women who embody their carnal desires (e.g. Amarcord and ). But Fellini sees the humor that underlies sexual obsession, except (usually but not always) in the eyes of the participants. Malena is a simpler story, in which a young man grows up transfixed by a woman and essentially marries himself to the idea of her. It doesn't help that the movie's action grows steadily gloomier, leading to a public humiliation that seems wildly out of scale with what has gone before and to an ending that is intended to move us much more deeply, alas, than it can."[4]

The film has a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on reviews of 76 critics. The website's critics consensus reads, "Malena ends up objectifying the character of the movie's title. Also, the young boy's emotional investment with Malena is never convincing, as she doesn't feel like a three-dimensional person."[5]


Main article: Malèna (soundtrack)

The soundtrack was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.


Alternate film poster




  1. Malèna at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. "PALMARÈS 2001" (PDF). 2001. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  3. Rooney, David. Variety, 30 October 2000. Retrieved: 1 March 2008.
  4. Roger Ebert. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, 22 December 2000. Retrieved: 1 March 2008.
  5. "Malena - Rotten Tomatoes". Flixter. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
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