Two Women

Lawrence Russell

Two Women (La Ciociara, 1960) dir. Vittorio de Sica writ. Zavattini and Sica (based on the novel by Alberto Moravia) cine. Gabor Pogany star. Sophia Loren (Cestra), Eleanora Brown (Rossetta), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michele), Raf Vallone (Giovanni)

The uneven dynamic of the narrative is due, perhaps, to the neo-realist aesthetic of linear time. Given that the action occurs over several months in 1944 during the Allied advance into Italy, and the desire to protect the integrity of Moravia's story, the action is episodic rather than integrated, flattened rather than dramatic. However, the film is saved by the outstanding performance of Sophia Loren as the widowed shop-keeper who leaves Rome and returns to her native village in order to spare her daughter from the bombing of Rome... and, of course, a number of scenes shot in the de Sica/Zavattini trademark style.

The story begins with an Allied attack on Rome, and the fear and chaos that the bombing brings. Eager to protect her young daughter Rosetta from the violence and horror, Cestra (Loren) decides to pass the care of her shop and property to an adjacent fuel merchant (and friend of her deceased husband).

The deal is sealed, typically, with a sex act in Giovanni's sunken coal cellar. The isometrics of the light and shadow are typical de Sica as is the ambient sound (children playing, traffic). Giovanni casually shuts the side door (closing off the light) and then the overhead dump door from the street (again closing off the light) before he climbs onto the widow of his best friend in a friendly Italian manner.

Cestra: Giovanni... think about your wife.

Giovanni: I wish a bomb would fall on her so I could marry you....

He sees her off on the train but the train doesn't get far because the tracks have been bombed. The widow and her daughter decide to walk the rest of the way to San Eufemia, the village of her kin. In a portent of things to come, the women are strafed by a passing fighter plane. They survive but witness the death of an elderly cyclist from whom they've just taken directions.

They find their mountain village (the daughter is fondled by a couple of low-level fascists en route) and altho' the near-relatives have left, they manage to secure a place to sleep for a month. Here they meet the young socialist Michele (Belmondo), the idealist who initially wanted to be a priest. His disgust and loathing for the confused and demoralized condition that Italy finds itself in comes out in a number of lines, most acutely in, "The uncivilized people are in the cities... they are the evil ones... the peasants could build a new society...." Etc. When Loren says that escape is possible, that they are safe here in San Eufemia, he replies, "There is no escape. You can't even escape from yourself."

Of course the village turns out to be no refuge at all. Italian fascists, British spies, German soldiers all pass through as the chaos of the war develops. The news of Mussolini's imprisonment comes from two angry fascists who threaten Cestra, Rossetta, and Michele on a mountain path.

Michele is attracted to Cestra, and again, during a bombing attack, she finds herself in the arms of a man. Although the symbolism of the spilled flour suggests sexual completion, the editing of the scene leaves the full extent of the love-making ambiguous.

Shortly thereafter a hungry and dehydrated group of German soldiers stumble into the village and abduct Michele as their guide. He's herded into the mountain mist, never to be seen again.

Cestra decides to return to Rome. The day is hot, the road dusty, jeeps and tanks occasionally pass. The women look for shade in a bombed-out church which is where they experience the full indignity and degradation that often happens in war: they are raped by some Moroccan (Allied) soldiers. The final shot (overhead) shows a bomb crater in the middle of the chapel, a black spot that is a metaphor for the horror and the failure that has overtaken the mother and child... and perhaps the failure of Italy's institutions.

The rape places a wedge between Cestra and Rosetta. In the beginning, they were mother and daughter; now they are two women.

There is a reconciliation, but only after Rosetta briefly runs off with an Italian truck driver and "singer".

"You can't even escape from yourself," says Cestra in despair, repeating Michele's line.

The closing shot is a pull-back through a hole-in-the-wall, isolating the mother and daughter as they embrace, their misfortune no doubt typical of many.

© LR 2/92


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Film Court | copyright 1999 | Lawrence Russell