Two Women is fascinating for two reasons. One, it is the film that brought Sophia Loren her Academy Award for Best Actress, the first for a foreign-language performance. (Since then, there have been awards for Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful and Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose, as well as Oscars for the foreign-language performances in mainly English-language films for Robert DeNiro for The Godfather, Part Two—Italian—and Benicio del Toro for Traffic—Spanish.)
Loren then and now, when viewing this film—destroys once again the sexist perspective that a stunningly beautiful women, even a sex symbol, can’t also be a great actress (with apologies to Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Zeta Jones, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson, for that crazy idea!). It’s a far cry from her more glossy Hollywood films, and she is raw, funny, deadly serious, angry, determined, protective, business-like, earthy beyond the definition, and tragically broken, all depending on where the film takes her. It’s the role of a lifetime, and it’s not a mystery why she was so internationally award for her work her. Yes, her voluptuous beauty can get in the way sometimes, but she wears it lightly, as most beautiful women do who have to put up with whistles, stares, and comments. Her performance is the film’s greatest strength, and is fully reason enough to see the film.
The other fascination is the director, Vittoria de Sica, here working again with his frequent screenwriter collaborator Cesare Zavattini (Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Umberto D.). De Sica’s early work with Zavattini produced neo-realist films of lasting influence. but De Sica, like Fellini and Visconti, moved in what might be called more traditional directions later in his career. Two Women is a good example of this, with its non-diegetic music, camera movement, editing, and the rather New Wave use of a zoom at the most dramatically intense moment of the film. The film arrives just as the French New Wave was taking off, even featuring New Wave icon Jean-Paul Belmondo (fresh off of Breathless), miscast as a young idealist. It might best be called a transitional film between his earlier and later work.
A note to modern film viewers: The vast majority of Italian films of the time were dubbed after filming. Of course, sometimes the dubbing was done by other actors. Here, though, Loren did her own dubbing, so it is completely her performance. But the post-production sound is obvious and can become a distraction. Just be advised that this is going to be your experience in watching an Italian film from this era. For Two Women and Loren’s work, it’s worth the temporary distraction.