The First Casualty of War – Two Women (Film Review)

A beautiful widow, Cesira (Sophia Loren) and her shy daughter, Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) are living in Rome in the throes of World War Two. She is a shopkeeper who cannot live among the devastation and the bombings. Fearing for her daughter’s safety, she travels to visit with friends of the family in the rural farmlands.

Out there, she meets a young intellectual called Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Michele is somewhere between Cesira’s experience and Rosetta’s innocence. In love with Cesira, he tries to gain her affection without ever really knowing how. Rosetta is falling for Michele but is only starting to realise what love really is. Cesira cannot think about his affection while her daughter is so vulnerable.

As the war progresses and the German forces find themselves in the Italian countryside, the war slowly brings ruin to the region. First, it is nothing more than speculation and fear. Then the food starts to dwindle, then the army begins to encroach on the freedom of the people, making more demands of them. Little by little the will of the people is ebbed away and Cesira and Rosetta are caught in the middle of it all.

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For her performance, Sophia Loren won the first Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar for a foreign language film. It isn’t hard to see why. Cesira is a fierce and strongly independent character who makes no apologies for the sacrifices, compromises and deceptions she has had to make for her and her daughter to find security and comfort. She brings joy to those around her and it is heart-breaking to see her once smiling, laughing face distraught by the chaos war has brought to her life.

Eleonora Brown was only twelve when she took on the role of Rosetta, but she is impossibly mature and professional for an actress of her age. What is asked of her is an incredible task for such a young actress to take on. There is a key scene which can only be communicated by the look on her face and it is one of the most unforgettable and agonising images I’ve ever seen in cinema.

Two Women is a harrowing portrayal of the ways that war rips our humanity from us, piece by piece, and the strength of humanity to endure it. It is a shocking, unsettling and life-affirming film, and to become all three at once can only be the work of incredible storytellers at the top of their games.

5/5

Dir: Vittorio De Sica

Scr: Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica

Cast: Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Raf Vallone, Eleonora Brown

Prd: Carlo Ponti

DOP: Gábor Pogány

Music: Armando Trovajoli

Country: Italy

Year: 1960

Run Time: 100 minutes

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Two Women is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital now.

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