If they ever decided to spin a weekly television series off of Federico Fellini’s ”Amarcord,” Giuseppe Tornatore, the Italian director of ”Cinema Paradiso” and the new Malena, would be an ideal choice for executive producer. His entire career is, in essence, a cannoli sweet homage to Fellini’s 1974 small town masterpiece – he taps the aging art house audience’s nostalgia for nostalgia.
As World War II rages, Malena (Monica Bellucci), a voluptuous, raven haired beauty, dolled up in stockings and flowered dresses, takes hip swishing strolls through her Sicilian village, ogled by the local men and by Tornatore’s camera. The hero, Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro), a wolf eyed adolescent on a second hand bicycle, is just as smitten, but he’s also the one true romantic in town.
Renato spies on Malena and learns her tragic secret: that she’s as virtuous as she is gorgeous, even after circumstances have forced her into prostitution. There are masturbation jokes, fake movie fantasies, a dollop of domestic hysteria, and a pleasant if derivative air of Sicily by the sea wistfulness. As Malena, the model actress Monica Bellucci is playing a kind of secular Mary Magdalene. She has presence, maybe even talent, but you wish that Malena’s inner life had been given as much accent as her outer charms.