Two Women, from director Vittorio “The Bicycle Theives” De Sica won Sophia Loren the Best Actress Oscar in 1962 – the only time a leading performer in a foreign-language movie has won one of the top acting gongs.
The two women of the title are Cesira (Loren) a young widow and grocery shop owner, and her 12 year old daughter Rosetta. It is the closing overtures of World War Two in Italy, and Rome is under bombardment – Mussolini’s regime is coming to an end and the Germans and Allies are on the march to seize control. Cesira decides to take her daughter back home to the small peasant village where she grew up – high up in the mountains and, she thinks, far away from trouble.
But this is total war, and the horrors of conflict are inescapable. If they aren’t under the threat of bombing, they have run out of food – starving as the produce of the land is sold on by farmers for far higher than market value. The small rural idyll is broken, the small village filled with others from local towns and cities looking for respite from danger. They are refugees in their own country.
Cesira is a feisty, necessarily independent woman – this, for the early 60s, is a brilliantly strong and complex female character. It is a character which puts a lot of modern day screenwriting for women to shame. She is strong in the face of tragedy, with a pragmatic emotional resilience, and with a humanity which rings true.
There are scenes in the movie which make for uncomfortable viewing even today, not least atrocities of the Moroccan Goumier allied soldiers, whose alleged widespread rape in liberated towns were a horrifying reported feature of Italy at the end of the war. This is where the film is both at its strongest and weakest – the reactions of those affected is exquisite, whereas the Goumier soldiers are depicted in such a stereotypical animalistic manner that they almost become a racist cartoon. It is unfortunate as the scenes are undeniably powerful.
Loren is great as Cesira, as is Eleonora Brown playing her daughter Rosetta. The supporting cast are all good too, providing a real community to the scenes in the village. The film also has scenes of high tension involving stand-offs with soldiers, bombing, threats and destruction. These are all played out with some real sensitivity and humour.
Even on DVD the quality of this restoration is impressive – the negative has been thoroughly cleaned and there is not a single mark to be seen. The DVD is presented in Italian with subtitles, or a dubbed English track. There are also two long documentaries – one on Sophia Loren and the other on director Vittorio De Sica as bonus features.
This is the horror of war in an occupied country often unflinchingly told, and as a result something which seems incredibly relevant today.
Two Women is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday 24th October.