Tuesday, September 23, 2014

No Innocents in War

Film: Two Women
Format: DVD from Freeport Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

When I deal with rarities, or at least films that are difficult to find, I take what I can get. In the case of Two Women, this means being forced into a dubbed version of the film instead of the version in the original Italian. I’d rather watch a film in its original language, but given the difficulty of tracking this one down, well, a dubbed version is better than nothing. It does make me wonder, though, why this film is so difficult to find. Sophia Loren won the Best Actress Oscar for this in 1961, the first time the award was handed out for a non-English performance. It would have been nice to see it in the version that was awarded.

I knew pretty much what I was getting into when I saw Vittorio De Sica’s name flash across the screen as the director. That name means neo-realism and a plot that doesn’t go anywhere happy. Expecting a Vittorio De Sica film to be happy for anything more than a few minutes at a time is like expecting a Busby Berkeley dance number in the middle of a Hitchcock film.

Cesira (Sophia Loren) is the widowed owner of a grocery in Rome. Normally, that would be fine, but this is in the middle of World War II, and the Allied forces have invaded in southern Italy and are slowly marching up the country, met by some Italian and fierce German resistance. What this means for Cesira is daily bombing runs. She is less worried for herself then she is for her daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown), who is about 12, right in that age of early physical maturity without the emotional maturity to go with it. Soon after the film starts, Cesira decides to go back home to her remote village in the mountains where she and Rosetta will be safe.

So off they go, and eventually they who up and more or less restart their lives among the people of the mountains. It is there that the two meet Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a man who has resisted enlisting in the Italian army and refused to join the fascist party. In truth, Michele is a communist, which causes a great deal of friction in the village. However, there is an attraction between him and Cesira, despite his being younger than her.

A good portion of the film plays quite a bit like a romance between these two. It’s almost as if De Sica wants give us a hint of what we might want to happen before he tears our collective heart out and stomps on it. Since this is a De Sica film, we know that nothing good is going to come of this relationship. Before it can get anywhere, Michele is taken by a group of German soldiers who plan to use him as a guide through the mountain passes. When this happens, Cesira and Rosetta decide to return to Rome.

Again, this is a De Sica film, which means not only is nothing good going to happen and that pretty much everyone is equally to blame for everything. When Cesira and Rosetta are attacked and gang raped, it’s not the Germans who do it, but Moroccan troops in French uniforms. I’ll leave the ultimate ending out of this, but will remind my readers that while De Sica loves to make films about depressing events, he never goes for full-on despair.

Two Women is a difficult film to specifically like or enjoy. It’s not about being an enjoyable film. I don’t think this is really a film that can be enjoyed. It’s well made and well-acted. At least that’s my impression. Again, it’s difficult to tell just how good the performances are when it’s another actor’s words coming out of everyone’s mouth. The performances look good at the very least, and that will have to be enough.

I’m just going to say this, though. I’m going to put this out and let anyone who sees it decide what responsibility he or she has with it. I’m tired of the rape plot. I guess I’ve been tired of it for some time, but a rape plot involving a 12-year-old girl is simply too much, or too much at this point. Or something. I understand that it’s a viable place to go with a film like this because it’s a sad and terrible reality of the world. But seriously, there are other bad things that can happen to people and to women specifically that don’t involve wanton rape. It’s as if the movies have decided that women are little more than sexual entities and the only things that concern them are their sexual functions and their ability to procreate. These are the only ways in which women deal with trauma in most films and I’m tired of it. I give this a pass because it was produced in 1960. But dammit, I’m getting tired to the point where these things have less and less of an impact on me. And really, that’s not right.

Why to watch Two Women: A war movie that's more about the people hurt than the people doing the hurting.
Why not to watch: Yet another “War is hell, peace is hell” movie.


  1. For me, this is one of the few films I can think of that depiction war from a female perspective, and it reminded me of an Australian-produced, German-language film 'Lore' for that reason.

    I agree, the dubbing is distracting, but Loren is so good in this that I can see why she won the Oscar. Considering her real age at the time - 26 - she played the role of protective mother really well.

    I agree with you about the preponderance of the rape plot becoming overkill. Though in this case, as you also said, I think it worked with the film, and is surprisingly raw for this era in film history.

    1. There is a sense in a lot of movies that the only meaningful things that can happen to a woman is being raped, getting married, or giving birth. While that's not all movies, or all women in movies, it's common enough that I get exhausted by it. I've complained many times in the past that coming-of-age stories for girls are always always about sex--that evidently the only story here is coming to terms with the possibility and reality of maternity. Women don't lose their jobs? Girls don't survive their parents' divorce?

      I mean, in this situation, I get it, but I'm also growing numb to it, and I really shouldn't be.

      That said, there's a lot here to recommend the film. Seen in its time, the rape issue would almost certainly be much more impactful, since it was, as you say, surprisingly raw for its time.