Two Women (1961): De Sica’s Powerful Anti-War Drama, Starring Sophia Loren in Astounding Oscar Winning Performance, Jean-Paul Belmondo (Mother-Daughter; Rape)

Italian title: La Ciociara aka The Woman from Ciociara
The great Italian actress Sophia Loren gives an astounding, Oscar winning performance in Vittorio De Sica’s bleak, black-and-white WWII saga, Two Women.
Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)
Two Women

Italian theatrical release poster
The powerful anti-war drama was based on Alberto Moravia’s book, and produced by the influential Carlo Ponti, Loren’s husband.
Loren became the first actress in Oscar’s history to win the Best Actress Oscar for foreign-language film. Italian Anna Magnani had won the Oscar in 1955, but it was for an English-speaking film, “The Rose Tattoo,” based on Tennessee Williams’ play.
This grim, emotionally devastating, extremely well-acted war melodrama is adapted to the screen the distinguished neo-realistic scribe Cesare Zavattini, who had written many of De Sica’s great, earlier films of the 1940s and 1950).
Set in 1943 in Rome, the tale centers on a young widow (Loren) operating a grocery store, who escapes the city during the bombings with her teenage daughter (Eleanora Brown).
Main section details austere daily life in war in her home village, where the two women find support and are befriended by Michele (Gallic Jean Paul Belmondo), a sensitive schoolteacher. Michele falls in love with Loren (who has never looked more naturally voluptuous, wearing the same robe and no makeup throughout the film), which terribly upsets her naïve and virginal daughter Rosa, because she is in love with him, too
Later on, Michele is forced to escort some Nazis, who are retreating from the country, and mother and daughter are both brutally raped by one of the most horrific and scenes in film history.
At first, the angry Rosa lashes at her mother and refuses to communicate with her, but the two women reconcile when they hear the devastating news of Michele’s death.
Loren’s part in “Two Women” was first intended for Anna Magnani under George Cukor’s direction. The idea was to cast Magnani in the mother’s role and Loren as her daughter. Magnani, however, rejected this proposition because Loren was “much taller than me,” claiming that she could not perform with a daughter “I have to look up to.” Loren was excited about the prospects of performing with Magnani, who at the time was the doyenne of Italian actresses. She tried to persuade Magnani, but to no avail. 
As it turned out, this part was single-handedly responsible for changing Sophia Loren’s image as a sex symbol, establishing her as a dramatic and comedic actress of the first rank.
Author Moravia’s work provided the source material for two other distinguished films: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” in 1963 and Bertolluci’s “The Conformist” in 1971.
Narrative Structure: Detailed Plot
Cesira (Loren) is a young and attractive widowed shopkeeper, who is raising her devoutly religious daughter, Rosetta (Brown), age 12, in Rome during World War II.

After the bombing of Rome, mother and daughter flee to Cesira’s native Ciociaria, a rural, mountainous province of central Italy. The night before they go, Cesira sleeps with Giovanni (Vallone), a coal dealer in her neighborhood, who agrees to look after her store in her absence.When they arrive at Ciociaria, Cesira attracts the attention of Michele (Belmondo), a young intellectual with communist tendencies. Rosetta sees Michele as a father figure and develops a strong bond with him. Michele is later taken prisoner by German soldiers, who force him to act as a guide through the mountainous terrain.

Traumatic Gang rape

After the Allies capture Rome, in June 1944, Cesira and Rosetta decide to head back to that city. On the way, the two are gang-raped inside a church by a group of Moroccan Goumiers, soldiers attached to the invading Allied Armies in Italy.

Rosetta is traumatized, becoming detached and distant from her mother and no longer an innocent child.

The two find shelter at a neighboring village, but when Rosetta disappears during the night, Cesira gets into panic. She thinks Rosetta has gone to look for Michele, but later she finds out that Michele had been killed by the Germans.

Rosetta returns, having been out with an older boy, who has given her silk stockings. Outraged and upset, Cesira slaps and spanks Rosetta for her behavior, but Rosetta remains emotionally unresponsive and distant.

When Cesira informs Rosetta of Michele’s death, Rosetta begins to cry like the little girl she had been prior to the rape.

The film ends with Cesira comforting her child.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Actress: Sophia Loren
Oscars: 1
Best Actress
In 1961, Sophia Loren deservedly won the Oscar in a competitive contest that included Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Piper Laurie in “The Hustler,” Geraldine Page in “Summer and Smoke,” and Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass.”
Sophia Loren as Cesira
Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michele Di Libero
Eleonora Brown as Rosetta
Carlo Ninchi as Filippo, Michele’s father
Raf Vallone as Giovanni
Andrea Checchi as A fascist
Pupella Maggio as Peasant
Bruna Cealti as Refugee
Antonella Della Porta as A crazy mother
Mario Frera
Franco Balducci as German in the haystack
Luciana Cortellesi
Curt Lowens
Tony Calio
Remo Galavotti


Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Screenplay by Cesare Zavattini, De Sica (uncredited), based on Two Women, 1957 novel by Alberto Moravia
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Cinematography Gábor Pogány
Edited by Adriana Novelli
Music by Armando Trovajoli

Production companies: Compagnia Cinematografica Champion;
Les Films Marceau Cocinor; Société Générale de Cinématographie

Distributed by Titanus (Italy); Cocinor-Marceau (France)

Release dates: December 22, 1960 (Milan premiere), December 23, 1960 (Italy) May, 17 1961 (France)

Running time: 100 minutes
Countries: Italy, France

Languages: Italian, German

Budget $850,000
Box office: $7.2 million (US); 2,024,049 admissions (France) 9,662,000 admissions (Italy)