Ranking: #85/111

Director: Vittorio De Sica (Italy)

Genre: War Drama

Two Women is a delicately executed Neo Realist portrait of Italy during World War 2, its story told through the eyes of the character played by the legendary actress Sophia Loren, a widower and mother called Cesira. The bulk of the plot is taken up with the journey she and her daughter, Rosetta, take out of their city after an air raid. The dislocation of war is subtly revealed by their need to flee their home, but this is never a preachy message. Like all good story-tellers, the message remains embedded in the story.

There is great tenderness in the love between mother and daughter, which offsets the harshness of the war conditions surrounding them. This contrast is brilliantly engineered to create balance in the “big picture” about war which De Sica is communicating in the film.

For a war drama, the diretcor employs an extraordinarily light grey palette in this black-and-white movie, once again softening the impact of war for large sections of the film. However, in the last days of the war, during the return of Cesira and Rosetta to Rome across mountains, they stop over to sleep in a bombed-out church and the cruelty of war intervenes to bring heartache to them.  There, the two women are gang-raped by soldiers. The setting of the church for this attack symbolises the desecration represented by these acts of violence. This scene is shot with the utmost sensitivity in total silence, as the women blank out their minds to survive the horror of being sexually assaulted. There is no gratuitous violence or sexuality to distract the viewer from the contemplation of the terror happening to the two main characters in the movie. The sense of devastation is palpable. War becomes rape and rape becomes war. It’s one of the most stunning scenes of war I’ve ever seen in film.

In the end, the timeless love between a mother and daughter prevails as the strongest force in the story, enabling some healing to take place following the rapes. It’s a realistic redemptive story of overcoming war’s terrors by accepting what has happened (“you can’t escape from yourself”) with the strength of love.

In my view, this is De Sica’s best movie after his iconic The Bicycle Thieves. It’s a very sensitive war drama told from a female perspective and expressed in expressive cinematic terms without any overt didactic messaging.