Film review by Jason Day of Italian drama Two Women/La ciociara, starring Sophia Loren as a woman travelling back to Rome during the latter stages of World War II, trying to protect her daughter from the horror of war. Directed by Vittorio De Sica.
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A mother (Sophie Loren) and her 13 year old daughter (Eleanora Brown) journey their way through WWII-ravaged Italy, the mother attempting to do all she can to keep the horrors of war as far away from them as possible.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Right from the stark opening – with brusque, harsh music – you know you are in for very different cinematic fare from Loren who, at this point, was a huge box-office star in American motion pictures.
The 1940’s were the heyday for a neo-realist master like Vittoria De Sica, but the long, evocative shadows criss-crossing the light in his classic movies such as The Bicycle Thieves (1948) manage to stretch into and invade this little family drama.
The accent this time is on female characters and the sort of challenges and horrors women faced. Or, perhaps ‘face’ in the present tense is more accurate; #MeToo and other recent movements have shone a light on how women still face such challenges in the modern day.
Smoothie Raf Vallone seduces Loren, the dark photography illuminated only by her face in beautiful closeup. He’s married and, you’ve guessed it, he lets her down.
Later, on a train, she cools herself, not realising she has unbuttoned further down than her male commuters can deal with. One of them leers at her; but there are such pigs everywhere.
As one would expect from a De Sica movie, there is a grounded, natural, earthy feel to Loren’s performance. Shorn of artifice, with little makeup, her hair lank and roughly tied back and dowdy, scrubwoman clothing, she is as far removed from her Hollywood self as it is possible to be. There is a raw, screaming power in her performance, even in the dubbed, English version of the movie (Loren, thankfully, dubs herself) and she won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Actress.
The storyline is downbeat with a shocking, but not gratuitous, finale where she and her daughter are chased and gang-raped in an empty church. All De Sica needs to do here is use a single close-up of Brown’s anguished young face to show us what millions of women across Europe suffered during and after WWII…and still do in 2021.
After this paralyzing, terrifying experience, the two pick themselves up and dust themselves off as best they can and accept a lift from a perpetually smiling, singing trucker, whose cab is plastered with photos of scantily clad women. Again, pigs…there are pigs everywhere.
Brown, whose film career didn’t even last out the decade, gives an astonishingly assured performance, quiet and humble, in her most famous movie.
Cast & credits
Director: Vittorio De Sica. 1hr 41min/101 min. Compagnia Cinematografica Champion/Cocinor/Les Films Marceau/Société Générale de Cinématographie (S.G.C.)/MGM. (15).
Producer: Carlo Ponti.
Writer: Vittorio De Sica.
Camera: Gábor Pogány.
Music: Armando Trovajoli.
Sets: Gastone Medin.
Sophia Loren, Eleanora Brown, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Carlo Ninchi, Andrea Checchi, Pupella May, Emma Baron, Raf Vallone.