As I'm heading to Roman this week, I watched the 2000 Italian film Malèna last week. The film, set during the Second World War stars Monica Bellucci as a woman who receives news of her husband's death in combat and as a result has to fend for herself against the town's more predatory inhabitants. As might be expected Bellucci's character, Melèna, has a considerable number of suitors, not least the teenage narrator whose desire for Melèna leads to voyeurism. Her other suitors however are less keen to keep their distance with many seeking to exploit her lack of finances for their own sexual desires.
At the same time Melèna's reputation with the town's women is getting worse and worse leading her to greater isolation and desperation. Ultimately she ends up fraternising with the Nazis and so when the way ends and the Nazis leave she is left to face the town's ire. What begins as a celebration of the town's liberation ends with Melèna being dragged from the barracks in front of a baying crowd, stripped, beaten and then having her hair cut off. The scene (from which the above image is taken) is strongly reminiscent of John 8:2-10 - the woman caught in adultery, and, of course, with Bellucci also playing this role four years later in The Passion of the Christ it's not hard to make a connection. I don't know if Gibson had seen this film - or even just this clip - when he made the film, but certainly the way it is staged and shot contains many similarities, as does the way Bellucci performs it.
However, in contrast to The Passion, this film's lead does not intervene to rescue the woman at the centre of the mob. He waits, and watches, certain that he should step in, but too afraid to do the right thing. For those used to such scenes featuring Jesus - or any of a number of heroes from similar scenes in other genres - the lack of intervention is agonising.
There are a number of other interesting links with Mary Magdalene in this film as well. Firstly there is the idea of Melèna as a fallen woman. Whilst it's church tradition, rather than the Bible, that has portrayed her so, its certainly part of the reason why that scene resonates so much.
Not unrelated to this is Melèna's changing image, most notably from a brunette to a red-head to a bleach blonde. This is perhaps rather tenuous, but there is something about Magdalene's transformation that could be expressed as a reinvention or a change of image.
More importantly there is the way the film finishes with the reappearance of Malèna's husband - a resurrection of sorts - who returns as a heroic if scarred figure who restores Malèna to wholeness once again. And perhaps thanks to her admirer being economical with the truth, he sees her without sin. Perhaps its because I am also thinking a lot about Jesus of Montreal at the moment, but I found the way the film explores truth, the perception of truth, oral transmission, kind lies and vicious lies to be very interesting.
Incidentally I believe I only watched the international cut of this film. There is, apparently, also a scene which was cut from this version which shows Malèna playing the part of Mary the Mother of Jesus as part of some kind of religious pageant (see it here). It seems to me that this changes the meaning of story massively. I'm still thinking over the impact of that.