Tonight’s cinema masterpiece is Two Women, directed by one of my personal favorites, Vittorio De Sica. Pioneer of the neorealism movement, four of De Sica’s films won Academy Awards: Sciuscià and Bicycle Thieves were awarded honorary Oscars, while Ieri, oggi, domani and Il giardino dei Finzi Contini won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. “The great critical success of Sciuscià (the first foreign film to be so recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and Bicycle Thieves helped establish the permanent Best Foreign Film Oscar. These two films generally are considered part of the canon of classic cinema. Bicycle Thieves was cited by Turner Classic Movies as one of the 15 most influential films in cinema history.”
Tonight’s feature, Two Women (La Ciociara), is a 1960 Italian film that tells the story of a woman trying to protect her devoutly religious twelve-year-old daughter from the horrors of war and the vicious Muslim soldiers terrorizing the countryside. The film stars Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Eleonora Brown, Carlo Ninchi and Andrea Checchi. The story is fictional, but based on actual events of July 1943 in Rome and rural Lazio and during what the Italians call the Marocchinate. Marocchinate, Italian for “those [feminine plural] given the Moroccan [Muslim] treatment” meaning “women/girls raped by Moroccans”) is a term applied to women who were victims of the mass rape and killings committed during World War II after the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. These were committed mainly by the Muslim soldiers. The monument “Mamma Ciociara” was erected in remembrance of the Marocchinate women, particularly those who were killed during the military campaign. It’s a fitting image for now as well considering the rape jihad going on across Europe.
TCM: In director Vittorio De Sica’s acclaimed drama Two Women (1960), set in 1943 Rome, the city is a continual target of Allied bombs. With a fragile, sheltered 13-year-old daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) to protect, widow Cesira (Sophia Loren) decides to leave her small grocery store and return to the relative safety of her native village Ciociara, in the Italian countryside.
Though there are assorted dangers along the way, the women arrive safely in Ciociara where they reintegrate themselves into the life of the community. They befriend Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo), the earnest, Marxist son of a local farmer and help two British soldiers stranded in the countryside. It is when Cesira and Rosetta decide to return to Rome to escape the food shortages and more bombs that De Sica’s film shows the misery of war and how it almost destroys the loving bond between mother and daughter. The villagers scatter, setting out on different paths to safety and Michele is taken by a ragtag group of German soldiers as a guide. In an isolated church where the women stop to rest they are brutally raped by Allied Moroccan soldiers, an act which turns the innocent, loving Rosetta into a blank-eyed stranger to her own mother.
Vittorio De Sica’s earthy connection to the real travails of Italians living in postwar Europe helped create the film genre of Italian Neo-Realism and masterworks like Shoeshine (1946), The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Umberto D. (1952). The film was adapted from a 1957 novel by Alberto Moravia, La Ciociara, which translates to “The Woman From Ciociara.” The novel was inspired by Moravia and his wife’s experiences as antifascists during World War II.
Sophia Loren won the first ever Oscar® awarded to a non-American actress in a foreign language film for her role in Two Women as well as the Best Actress Award at Cannes and from the British Film Academy and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Stage fright kept Loren from actually attending the Academy Awards to claim her statuette, so Greer Garson accepted the award on Loren’s behalf, heralding “this wildly beautiful and talented girl.”
Previously at GR:
French Moroccan and Algerian troops used by the so-called “Free French” forces in World War Two participated in numerous downplayed atrocities in Europe, for instance, during the Allied conquest of Italy. Moroccan (and some Algerian) forces played a major role in mass rapes of Italian women and killings of Italian men following the German defeat in the bitter Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. The atrocity is still remembered in Italy as the “Marocchinate”. In the article translated below, a French author, Frederic Sroussi, expounds on this subject, as horrible abuses were committed against the Italian civilians by the troops of French Moroccan “goumiers” (irregular skirmisher troops donated to France by the Sultan of Morocco) and other colonial soldiers of the French Expeditionary Corps during the liberation of Italy between 1943 and 1944. French Moroccans in particular, but also African soldiers of other nationalities, raped thousands of women, girls, and men during this period. They pillaged villages and killed those Italian civilians who tried to protect their wives and children. According to the Italian women’s organization, Unione delle Donne Italiane, 12,000 women were raped at that time by the French colonial troops of Muslim heritage. This figure is quite credible, as the historian, Tommaso Baris, a professor at the Faculty of Political Science at La Sapienza University in Rome, wrote a detailed study on the subject, reproduced in the prestigious magazine Twentieth Century. General Juin, commander-in-chief of the French contingent, solemnly declared on the subject of these rapes and murders: “We must put an end to these acts, unworthy of a victorious army.” However, his instruction went unheeded. An Italian film, titled La Ciociara, about these odious collective rapes, was shot in 1960, according to the book of Alberto Moravia, directed by the famous actor and director Vittorio De Sica, with Sophia Loren in the lead role.
By Bosley Crowther
Published: May 9, 1961
A sharp change of pace for Sophia Loren from the generally slick and frivolous roles she has played during the last several years in American movies is most conspicuous and praiseworthy in her return to Italian films in Two Women (La Ciociara), which came to the Sutton yesterday. Suddenly, the decompressed Miss Loren demonstrates herself an actress again and, under the direction of Vittorio De Sica, takes a firm place in a simple, honest film.
It is not a momentous picture, not the sort that is likely to be recalled as one of the great neo-realist—or post-neo-realist—Italian films, for it is built upon a frame of little details that are collapsed by one cruel, climactic incident and it is so colloquial in so much of its content that it seems exclusively national. Furthermore, the English subtitles do such a poor job of translating the abundant and juicy Italian dialogue that the meaning and quality of the talk, which is so important, are lost for those who haven’t the full Italian tongue.
For the first hour or so it is deceptive—deliberately so, no doubt, as a way of disarming the viewer for the shock and significance of its crushing episode. It is simply the easy, jolly story of a young widowed mother who cuts out of Rome after a series of heavy bombardments in 1943 and takes her thirteen-year-old daughter back to her own natal village in the hills of Ciociara.
Except for one ugly experience with a strafing plane on the way in and a brush with a couple of clumsy fascist police that is more amusing than unpleasant, the two get along quite nicely with the peasants back in the hills, sitting out the war in comparative safety and wanting only for an abundance of food and a little love. The latter is tentatively offered by a timid, bespectacled young man whom the mother lightly puts off as too feeble but the daughter wistfully worships from afar.
Then Italy is invaded by the Allies, the Germans grimly retreat, and mother and daughter fall in behind the Americans in what they hope will be an easy hike back to Rome. But one night, while seeking a little shelter alone in a bombed-out church, they are attacked and brutally ravished by a howling mob of Moroccan troops. It is a horrible, shattering experience, a destructive bolt out of the blue, and the mother’s pathetic endeavors to correct the damage make up the remainder of the tale.
Evidently, the purpose of this suddenly tragic account, as originally written by Alberto Moravio and adapted by Cesare Zavattini for the screen, is to represent the disaster of those people—and, indeed, of Italy—who thought the war was a matter of playing it cozy and making do. The indication of Allied soldiers committing the devastating rape is the ultimate bitter dramatization and comment upon the tragedy of the war.
This is the comment of the picture, and it is suddenly, sharply put, but the beauty of Miss Loren’s performance is in her illumination of a passionate mother role. She is happy, expansive, lusty in the early phases of the film, in tune with the gusto of the peasants, gentle with her child. But when disaster strikes, she is grave and profound. When she weeps for the innocence of her daughter, one quietly weeps with her.
The child is played with luminous sweetness and dignity by Eleanora Brown, and the Frenchman, Jean-Paul Belmondo (the thug of Breathless), is mildly amusing as the timid young man. Raf Vallone and Renato Salvatori are sturdy in very small roles.
Signor De Sica’s direction has the qualities of fullness and momentum that are familiar and so compelling in his films.
TWO WOMEN (MOVIE)
Directed by Vittorio De Sica; written (in Italian, with English subtitles) by Cesare Zavattini and Mr. De Sica, based on the novel by Alberto Moravia; cinematographers, Gabor Pogany and Mari Capriotti; edited by Adriana Novelli; music by Armando Trovaioli; art designer, Gastone Medin; produced by Carlo Ponti; released by Embassy Pictures. Black and white. Running time: 105 minutes.
With: Sophia Loren (Cesira), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michele), Eleanora Brown (Rosetta), Raf Vallone (Giovanni), and Renato Salvatori (Florindo).
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