Vittorio De Sica
- Sophia Loren as Cesira
- Eleonora Brown as Rosetta
- Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michele
A harrowing account of a mother trying to protect her daughter in the dark days of World War II, Two Women is strikingly told and excellently acted. Occasionally it gets a bit meandering, but the grim power and authentically moving performance from Sophia Loren make Two Women a must see.
It is the Second World War and in Rome, widowed shopkeeper Cesira is struggling to cope with the constant uncertainty and bombings that terrify everyone. Her main priority is keeping her 12-year-old daughter Rosetta safe, no matter what. Having saved up some money and collected what she needs, she heads with Rosetta to the hills of her childhood, looking for sanctuary. The journey to the hills is fraught with difficulties and horror, but the two persevering women carry on. Once in the poor but a lot more sheltered regional village of her past, Cesira attempts to carve a life for her and Rosetta until the war calms down and they can return to Rome. Along the way, Cesira becomes attracted to young idealist Michele, who also harbours romance for her. Though she develops feelings for him over time, her primary concern is Rosetta and Cesira knows that her impressionable daughter has a crush on him. Times are tough due to shortage of supplies and amenities, though resourceful Cesira tries to make the best of things by foraging food and just protecting her daughter from the horrors of war as long as she possibly can. Yet just as it seems safe for Cesira and Rosetta to return to Rome with the war seemingly hitting a turning point, they encounter brutal tragedy at the hands of Moroccan soldiers.
Vittorio De Sica wisely brings his credentials as a purveyor of neo-realism out here, highlighting the stark and unforgiving fallout war can cause and especially on those left behind. None of the film is varnished or dressed up to look smooth, it is depicted with astonishing naturalness and harsh reality thanks to De Sica’s expertise. It deftly captures the way that a war can impact on people and their lives, one minute it seems calm, the next minutes it is a mass upheaval. There are those out there that will dismiss the film as overly episodic, but by and large, it’s an honest picture of the sea saw of terror and not knowing when . Two Women is not without nicer moments of people attempting to raise their spirits, but these are coupled with scenes of shock and grit that never lets us forget that this is only a temporary respite from a difficult time. Some parts do feel a bit rushed and there are parts that linger too long for their own good, yet the bigger picture and power of the piece always manages to bring it all back to something exceptionally genuine. The last half especially will emotionally devastate and shock viewers with its intensity and raw, visceral content that leaves a mark. The black and white cinematography highlights the bleakness of war and what it does to people, both emotionally and physically. If Two Women had been in colour, a lot of the impact would have dissipated. Music is employed sparingly but appropriately, allowing the main story and themes of survival to flourish but also give an emotional pull when required.
Sophia Loren is simply put powerful and forceful in the lead role; it’s no surprise she won the Academy Award for her raw and heart-rending work here. The role of Cesira is embodied so naturally and with grave, hard-working determination by Loren that you can’t tear yourself away from the screen. She excels at colouring the role with the deep maternal instinct and love, without resorting to melodrama and needless overdramatising. Sure Cesira says what she thinks and can be very feisty, but in the hands of Loren, we glimpse the little nuances of the character that complete the whole. We get many sides to the woman; the caring side, desolation and vulnerability, along with an outspoken attitude and unwavering strength that all make it a triumph of intensity and authenticity. From the first moment you see Loren cradling her daughter from harm and screaming that she wishes the war would end, you just know that the performance is going to be something special. Before this film, Sophia Loren had largely been cast in parts that were merely glamorous and weren’t ones that showcased the talent she had. She really showed off her abilities with this award collecting part, that will haunt the mind for days to come and established herself as an actress to be reckoned with. Eleonora Brown forges a realistic and convincing bond with Loren as the young innocent daughter, whose experiences leave her shell-shocked and she has to grow up quicker than expected. This tender relationship is the heart of the movie and is played magnificently. Jean-Paul Belmondo has probably the least demanding role of the central three, but nonetheless conveys the free thinking and opinionated feelings of the young idealist.
Anchored by the superb work of Sophia Loren showing her mettle and the honest direction of Vittorio De Sica , Two Women is a dark and stark evocation of the horrors endured in World War II and the power of a mother’s love.