Directed by: Vittorio De Sica | 96 minutes | drama, war | Actors: Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Eleonora Brown, Carlo Ninchi, Andrea Checchi, Pupella Maggio, Emma Baron, Bruna Cealti, Antonella Della Porta, Mario Frera, Franco Balducci, Luciana Cortellesi, Curt Lowens, Tony Calio, Remo Galavotti, Elsa Mancini, Giuseppina Ruggeri, Luciano Pigozzi, Luigi Terribile, Antonio Gastaldi, Carolina Carbonaro, Raf Vallone
Sophia Loren is the first woman to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for a role in a non-English-language film. In 1960, the Italian was quite rightly awarded for her performance in ‘La Ciociara’ (‘Two Women’), directed by Vittorio De Sica. The film deals with a chapter from the Second World War that has long been forgotten by many, but left deep wounds in Italy itself that have still not been healed: the Marocchinate. Moroccan troops who were part of the French colonial army were deployed in May 1944 against the Germans during the Battle of Monte Cassino. On May 18, a breakthrough was forced by the Allies. That night thousands of Moroccan soldiers (Gourmiers) swarmed out over the surrounding hills in the Ciociaria region. They moved from village to village, leaving a trail of murder and manslaughter. More than 2,000 women between the ages of 11 and 86 were raped, men who tried to protect their wives and daughters were shot without mercy. Writer Alberto Moravia later incorporated the tragic events into the novel ‘La Ciociara’, De Sica and producer Carlo Ponti turned it into an unforgettable film in 1960.
La Loren plays Cesaria, a woman in her thirties who runs a grocery store in 1944 Rome and takes care of her shy teenage daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) by herself. When the city is frequently targeted by the Allied bombers, who try to expel the fascists from Italy, Cesaria decides to flee to the countryside with her daughter. In the Ciociaria region, where she originally comes from, she hopes to be able to go into hiding until it is safe enough to return to Rome. They end up in a kind of commune in which they try to build a life as best they can. Cesaria befriends Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a young idealist with communist sympathies who can get enough food through his family. Michele turns out to be a target of the Germans and the Italian fascists and when he is taken away, Cesaria and Rosetta are on their own. The US forces are making steady progress and it seems that it is safe for the women to return home. But unfortunately they leave for the city too early …
‘La Ciociara’ is an impressive drama that realistically depicts the horrors of war. Citizens have a hard time keeping their heads above water, but still try to make the best of it, as best they can. They keep their dignity. An example of this is Cesaria, a strong woman who works very thoughtfully. Her main concern is for her naive daughter – as long as she is safe and keeps her innocence, it is all right. Cesaria does not really have a political position. Like so many others, she is initially loyal to Mussolini and his entourage because she doesn’t want to stand out too much and just wants to continue living her old familiar life. She seeks stability in these war-torn times. However, mistrust in the fascists and their German friends is growing steadily, while at the same time the Americans are invading and destroying the country with their bombers. It is easy to imagine that it is difficult for Italian citizens to determine who their loyalties lie. The fear and chaos are perfectly portrayed in the first half of the film. De Sica relies on his neo-realistic background and films penetrating and compelling. The atmospheric Italian countryside (in this case the Abruzzo, where the recordings were made) also plays a prominent role in this. De Sica leans on his neo-realistic background and films penetrating and compelling. The atmospheric Italian countryside (in this case the Abruzzo, where the recordings were made) also plays a prominent role in this. De Sica relies on his neo-realistic background and films penetrating and compelling. The atmospheric Italian countryside (in this case the Abruzzo, where the recordings were made) also plays a prominent role in this.
No matter how beautiful the images are, this is really Sophia Loren’s film. The charismatic Italian was actually second choice, after that other grande dame, Anna Magnani. However, she had other obligations and gave Loren the part “if she was willing to play the mother of a teenage daughter.” The 25-year-old (!) Loren put her vanity aside and seized the opportunity with both hands. She plays the part of her life, full of conviction, passion and strength. Cesaria immediately wins your sympathy because, above all else, she is a mother who wants to protect her daughter. She is even willing to use her own sexuality for that, as long as her daughter remains unharmed. The last half hour is the undisputed highlight of the film and of Loren’s career. The devastating effect that a traumatic event can have, was seldom portrayed so aptly. The young Eleonora Brown also plays her part very well. It is a pity that we have not heard from her after the sixties. Jean Paul Belmondo plays a nice role but clearly plays second fiddle.
‘La Ciociara’ is a compelling, realistic Italian war drama about a forgotten chapter in recent world history. With director Vittorio De Sica, cameraman Gábor Pogány and lead actress Sophia Loren in top form, you don’t need much more to create a masterpiece. Especially the penetrating last half hour will burn on your retina for a long time. Rarely did an actress earn her Oscar more than Sophia Loren in ‘La Ciociara’.