Malena (2000)

A language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

From the writer and director of the award-winning film Cinema Paradiso, this film is the story of a boy’s journey to manhood amid the chaos and intolerance of World War II. Monica Bellucci plays the most beautiful woman in a small town in Sicily who becomes the subject of malicious gossip and jealousies from the men and women of the town. The young boy Renato is the only one who understands her and feels sympathetic towards this woman whom everyone else thinks is a whore and a disgrace.

Through the eyes of Renato we see his sexual awakening and watch him become a mature and independent young man. This is a compassionate yet disturbing film in places. There are some scenes that are distressing, but it is compelling viewing as it evokes the restrained and religious culture of the time and the old Italian way of thinking.

It was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Musical Score.

Some Sicilian is noted within the film but the bulk of it is in Italian that is easily understandable if you’ve been learning it. In Italian with English subtitles.

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Life is Beautiful (1999)
La Vita è Bella

A language advantage film review by Tess Bentall

Set in 1939, Italy. The hero Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), who has a gift for making people laugh, and his friend Ferruccio come to a new town to stay with Guido’s uncle Eliseo. Guido meets the beautiful schoolteacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) by accident. He nicknames her princess. They encounter one another several times by surprise in amusing circumstances. Eventually he wins her heart and takes her away from her disagreeable fiance.

Years later Guido and Dora are happily married and have a young son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Since they are Jews Guido and Giosue are taken to a concentration camp. Dora, a gentile, follows them there voluntartily. In order to protect Giosue’s innocence and to shield him from the dangers and brutality of life during the Holocaust, Guido tells Giosue that they are part of a role playing game where they have to obtain a thousand points by obeying camp orders and coping with camp life in order to win first prize. Will Guido succeed in protecting his son and will the family ever be reunited?

Life is Beautiful is an absolutely adorable film. It is moving, uplifting and extremely amusing. A deserved winner of three Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor and Best Original Score. The film gives the viewer a unique insight into Italian history, the Italian way of life and Italy’s family values. It is also a celebration of the power of the imagination and the beauty of the human spirit. The interaction between Guido and Giosue is delightful. The romance between Guido and Dora is entirely believable and all the more touching when the viewer knows that Benigni and Braschi are happily married to each other off-screen. The key triumph of this film is to make one truly believe that life is beautiful. A joy to watch. Five stars.

In Italian with English subtitles.

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The Postman (1994)
Il Postino

A language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

This is a wonderfully charming story of an almost illiterate man, Mario Ruoppolo, played by the late Massimo Troisi. He decides to leave his life as a fisherman and become a postman on his native island in the Mediterranean Sea. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Poet (played by the French actor Phillipe Noiret also in Cinema Paradiso) has found a rustic home on the same island after he is exiled in 1952. Mario is in charge of bringing Pablo his packages and mail and their friendship develops over time. Like everyone else on the island, Mario is impressed by the foreigner. In trying to imitate his poet friend, Mario becomes aware of all the beauty around him and discovers love with a beautiful local girl, Beatrice Russo.

Poetry is the connection between the two men, as Pablo helps Mario to woo the lovely Beatrice using poetry. It’s a simple film but gloriously filled with poetry and tango music reminiscent of the Chilean culture at that time. Although the English Director Michael Radford directed this film, he shows well the stunning scenery of the Mediterranean island and the very slow, simple way of life of its people. The Italian language is generally easy, although – at times – it is difficult to understand the ramblings of Mario in his thick Italian!

This film won an Oscar and a BAFTA award in 1996 as well as many other nominations for Best Foreign Film and Best Leading Actor for Massimo Troisi. In Italian with English subtitles.

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Mediterraneo (1992)

A language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

This film is directed by Gabriele Salvatores and set in Greece during World War II. Mediterranneo is a comedy about eight Italian soldiers who are sent to guard a small Greek island. The soldiers ship is sunk and their radio breaks down so as far as the army is concerned the soldiers no longer exist. They start to form a small Italian/Greek community with the locals and their past is soon forgotten. The soldiers’ characters start to change and they begin to adopt the island’s way of life with no desire to return to war.

This film is lovely; a real heart warmer full of passion and romance. A film about human nature, stereotypes and relationships during the war. It’s an Italian love story with a dash of comical genius. Definitely a must for any Mills & Boon fan and anyone who wants to experience an Italian romance with a ray of Greek sunshine.

In Italian with English subtitles.

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Cinema Paradiso (1989)

A language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

This has to be my all time favourite foreign movie. It is the story of a young boy called Salvatore who grew up in a small Sicilian village in the forties and fifties. As an older man and successful film director, he returns home for the funeral of Alfredo, an old friend and his surrogate father, who was the projectionist at the local cinema in the town throughout his childhood. Salvatore remembers his childhood and his friendship with Alfredo. We are taken back in time and into his memories of love and understand why it took the death of his old friend Alfredo for him to return to his home after 30 years.

This film by director Giuseppe Tornatore, who also produced Malena in 2000. It is a film which is stunning, charming and utterly absorbing. It not only vividly shows life in a small village in Sicily during the 1940’s but also shows the passage of time and how progress, industrialisation and technology can change people’s lives and not always for the better.

It won an Academy Award at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, five Baftas, a Golden Globe and several other nominations and awards. It is also currently one of the most bestselling dvd’s on This is a definite must-see movie that will have you watching it again and again.

Some Sicilian is noted within the film but the bulk of it is in Italian that is easily understandable if you’ve been learning it for a while. In Italian with English subtitles. Rated PG in the UK.

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