It ought to work better than it does. Giuseppe Tornatore's film, like his magnificent Cinema Paradiso", is set in Sicily, and recalls a past time within living memory of older people.
The Second World War: Italy begins on the side of the Germans and later switches to the Allies, leading to seriously ambivalent attitudes. In the early days of the fighting, the youth of a small coastal town make a habit of foregathering on the seafront to watch the daily promenade of Malena (Monica Belluci) a young woman of ravishing beauty who strolls past totally ignoring them. One of the boys, Renato (Giuseppe Solfaro) becomes so besotted that he takes to spying on her, peering through her windows, and using her as a masturbatory object.
She is a war wife, and her husband is posted missing. After the arrival of the Nazis she consorts with a German officer, behaviour that shocks the townsfolk, and later she is brutally punished by the women who beat her, shave her to the scalp, and strip her in public. Renato, having followed her progress through his adolescence, watches her humiliation passively.
Fellini would have done this more incisively. His "Amarcord", for example, is a marvellous evocation of a Rimini childhood. Tornatore is also attempting to echo the early post-war neo-realist movement, and there is even a verbal reference to Vittorio De Sica, one of its greatest exponents. But Tornatore's characters are stereotypical and grotesque. Renato's father (Luciano Federico) is meant to offer comic relief, but comes across as a charmless, bullying moron. Given the promise, "Malena" is a disappointment.