A deliberately titillating scene opens Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Unknown Woman: three women wearing masks, asses to audience, stand naked in a strangely gilded room to be examined through peepholes. After they’re dismissed, a second round comes out, and a blonde is asked to step forward and strip; “She’ll do fine,” an offscreen male voice intones. As usual, the Cinema Paradiso director has an eye for the voluptuous female form, but the lascivious voyeurism of his camera — contained (Tornatore thinks) in his preceding movie, Malena, by embedding its obsessive gaze within the point of view of a horny adolescent boy — is made explicit here by its alignment with a prurient perspective. This objectifying introduction to his film’s protagonist (played by Xenia Rappoport) is curiously at odds with the rest of the film, which is filtered through her subjectivity. This slippage explains the unintentional unease which colors the movie from the start, and undermines its attempt to create a credible portrait of a woman.
Click here to read the rest of Kristi Mitsuda’s review of The Unknown Woman.