i watched malena last night, and it broke my heart. i found myself tearfully recalling all my sympathy for those other women.
to me, it was a poignant statement on just how deeply dysfunctional the madonna/whore dichotomy is, forcing us into boxes that cause us to hurt ourselves and one another.
[SPOILER ALERT: if malena's a film you think you might wanna see, stop reading now, 'cause i'm gonna give away some key plot elements...]
malena's crime was being too beautiful for her surroundings.
constantly and erroneously maligned by dowdy "madonnas" (one wonders how many of them were dark-haired sicilian beauties in their time...how short memory can be!) malena was made into a fictional whore, dangerously isolated from her community for a brilliance she had no part in. surely it's no coincidence that her full name is maddalena.
soon after the movie opens, her husband dies in the war. then, on the basis of a rumor -- one that would have caused my father to crack some skulls before he even got around to asking me if it were true -- even her father abandons her. the infirm, aging father she doted upon, and apparently the only family she has left.
so, this impoverished, widowed, rape-surviving woman did what she had to do to survive. in the process, she reddens her hair and fulfills some of the prophecies that had been thrown at her for months.
meanwhile, the town's other whore smiles knowingly at malena. she's considered old news now that she's officially the mistress of an important man, but that smile made me wonder how closely malena's story mirrored her own. she never speaks, but you can practically hear her saying, "she finally woke up. if you can't beat 'em, might as well join 'em".
fast forward a few scenes. the war is over, and it turns out malena's not a widow after all. but before her husband can find her, malena is brutally beaten and run out of town on a rail (literally).
granted, part of the women's anger was due to her known fraternizing with the fascists who'd brutalized the people. but would malena have had to resort to such measures if she'd had just one woman brave enough to befriend her? if she didn't have to bear being sold rotten food by the very same women who were pissed she "stole" their husbands to survive? and how much of that anger should have been put into beating cruel husbands, brothers, or ungrateful sons instead?
only after malena returns, sans joy, on the arm of her disabled war veteran husband does the community that pushed her into depression and loneliness have the unmitigated gall to greet her with buon giorno, signora.
fuck outta here.
malena betrays no haughtiness, no desire to lord her looks over others. in fact, she walks through town with a no-nonsense stride, solemn expression, and downward gaze, giving no acknowledgment to her traffic-stopping (again, literally) attributes.
her only friend is an adolescent boy she barely knows. her story is told through his eyes. while he is old enough to make her the sole obsession of his emerging sexuality, he's young enough to remain open to a holistic picture of this woman's life and circumstances.
i could go on for days about the fanatic suppression of feminine power and beauty in the european psyche -- a fever they spread through the rest of the world.
but i won't.
'cause even babies know what happens to women who are too naked, cool and free.