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Cesira and her 13-year-old daughter, Rosetta, flee from the allied bombs in Rome during the second world war. They travel to the village where Cesira was born. During their journey and in the village, the mother does everything to protect Rosetta. However, on one occasion they both get raped by soldiers hiding in a church. This cruel event is too much for the always powerful fighting Cesira and she suffers from a breakdown. During their stay in the village, a young intellectual, Michele falls in love with Cesira who does not know how to reply to the advances of such a gentleman. Written by
Gerhard Windecker <email@example.com>
certainly not for those who aren't ready to shed some tears; the last half hour is vintage De Sica
Two Women is powerful not just simply for its final half hour, even if that is, arguably (and I'd argue on the side of "yes"), some of the best drama Vittorio De Sica and his screenwriter Cesar Zavatinni created. It's a view into lives that, at least at the time, didn't get much time on cinema screens. We understand that this young mother, Cesira (VERY well deserved Academy Award winner Sophia Loren), has a kind of hard protective shell of the fiery, strong woman that today might seem to verge on being something to expect in an Italian or Spanish drama, but here is meant to be just that- a shell to guard off from the wretched horrors of a war which repeatedly she asks "will it end soon?" She also has to be strong for her thirteen year old daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown, excellent even if not considering it's a first performance), who still has a little innocence and admiration for those who are more good-hearted, if not as resourceful.
This type as mentioned is in Michel (Jean Paul Belmondo, a curiously low-key performance considering his big hype as a suave star in France), who is a resistance fighter that Cesira and Rosetta come across while traveling away from Rome during bombing raids. We see them (Michel and Cesira) getting close, maybe too close, though she recognizes in him one of the only vestiges of common sense and decency, even if in a slightly shrewd (or just practical) manner that she can't totally grasp. She's been through the war, right along with her daughter, and there's layers that Loren grasps that pierce through the character; De Sica knows that she's capable of reaching these very real dimensions even before she has to go full tilt into the tragedy of the rape scene in the church. Loren's absolutely stunning in her gorgeous beauty, but in a way that works to make a comment on how her character has to keep guarded as well. Sometimes a look is just enough to suggest something. Other times, men might get a little more forceful. There's suggestion beneath some of the bigger scenes, and Loren is fantastic at grabbing them for all their worth.
From the start, De Sica and Zavattini set the tone: people walking on a street, suddenly the alarms sound, running, bombs drop. Should be business as usual, but it's still staggering for the mind to grasp. In a way, Cesira and Rosetta are in the midst of a kind of apocalyptic atmosphere, and we as the audience, even as we know where history will lead the characters, get wrapped up in the maelstrom of violence (one moment that's important is when the mother and daughter walk along a quiet road, a man on a bicycle passes, and a plane swoops down, shooting, the women duck, but the man is killed - the women look startled for just a moment, but hide it and go on their way) and with some political discourse thrown in from time to time as well (these might be the only weak spots of the film, but still very good scenes with a quick pace and sharp attention to mixing real actors and "non" actors, a slightly elevated neo-realism). And there are memorable scenes before that last half hour- just seeing the Germans appear up in front of the Italians, menacing in an almost surreal two-dimensional fashion, verbally abusive, taking bread. Scenes precede this, like a couple of brutes who threaten Cesira with a gun. But this one strikes it hard: a state of mind in war cripples the mind.
Finally, they come to the abandoned church, and the infamous scene occurs (filmed with a very effective zoom lens on Rosetta's eyes at a crucial moment, a kind of approximate exclamation point). It's a very careful study in the disintegration of the human spirit at this point, and more than once, De Sica and his writer, as in times before, pull sincerely and harshly at the heart strings. This time, however, is like seeing a Lifetime TV movie as done by the most sincere dramatist, ready to gage the emotions just by presenting the devastation straight on, and enhancing a theme: the futility of escape in this environment. Rosetta can't stand that her mother didn't protect her more, she's almost shell-shocked, and after a tense scene riding back with an opera singing trucker (a small, great scene), she awakes at night to see she's run off with the trucker from before. She comes back, Cesira is furious, but not simply for that. A much greater tragedy has occurred, and it all comes crashing down. Even the most hardened and cynical moviegoer will be hard-pressed to hold back from crying as Loren brushes back her daughter's hair in the church, or tries to look away in the truck. And that final shot, however in sentiment as the final shots of Umberto D and Bicycle Thief, drive it on home like a dagger.
One of the best films of 1960; a touching masterpiece in Italian cinema from one of the masters (if that's over-praising it much forgive me).
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