[Film Review] Divorce Italian Style (1961)

Divorce Italian Style poster

English Title: Divorce Italian Style
Original Title: Divorzio all’italiana
Year: 1961
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Pietro Germi
Writers:
Ennio De Concini
Pietro Germi
Alfredo Giannetti
Music: Carlo Rustichelli
Cinematography:
Leonida Barboni
Carlo Di Palma
Cast:
Marcello Mastroianni
Daniela Rocca
Stefania Sandrelli
Leopoldo Trieste
Odoardo Spadaro
Margherita Girelli
Bianca Castagnetta
Angela Cardile
Lando Buzzanca
Ugo Torrente
Pietro Tordi
Antonio Acqua
Rating: 7.9/10

Divorce Italian Style 1961

It may sound snobbish to call this a “backwoods” spoof censuring the uncivilized marriage system not that far time ago, but the Sicily populace shouldn’t take it too personal since it is a truthful recount of that provincial and religion-brainwashed era, we can only progress when we are not ashamed to face up our own shortcomings. DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE was a massively successful comedy at its time, with sleek camerawork in monochromatic glamour and an engaging score by Rustichelli, even conquered the demography overseas, and harvested three Oscar nominations (including BEST LEADING ACTOR, BEST DIRECTOR) with one win for its original script, quite a phenomenon for a foreign language picture.

A do-nothing baron Ferdinando (Mastroianni) intends to kill his annoying wife Rosalia (Rocca), so that he can marry his young cousin Angela (a fourteen-year-old Sandrelli, it is not just incestuous, also borderline priapic, the noble family’s fortune is in decline, however this inglorious bent runs deeply in their blue-blooded genes). Like father like son, the film cunning reveals, his hoary father Don Gaetano (Spadaro), shares the same voyeuristic habit to the same subject within their family. So, what is Fefe’s (Ferdinando’s nickname in the family) plan when divorce is not an option to get rid of his wife? The only solution is to bloodily murder her during a crime-of-passion for her infidelity, for which he will only serve for some shortened years in prison. This is exactly what the story unwinds when conveniently he finds out Carmelo Patanè (Trieste), a painter recently arrives in the town, is actually an old acquaintance of Rosalia, who admires her as if she is the reincarnation of Madonna. Obviously, Fefe is a morally corrupted person, but in a comical way, viewers cannot help rooting for his murder plan thanks to Mastroianni’s first-class force-of-personality, with a hovering doubt of whether he will do it or not. Injecting a sublime likableness into Fefe’s stalemate, Mastroianni unleashes a superlative demeanour of drollness, his comedic knack is unparalleled in the film, who would have expect that it was under the hand of Pietro Germi, whose directorial prowess in comedy hadn’t been tested at then. One of the takeaways is Fefe’s habitual twitch on his left cheek, which I have a personal affinity with.

Another functional trickery to render sympathy towards Fefe is Germi’s caricature portrayal of Rosalia, (Rocca, was Germi’s lover then, whose career would be truncated after the breakup, which unfortunately would also traumatize her mental state), deliberately uglifies her with a prominent mustache and a manually designed monobrow, she emerges as an insufferable shrew who is also overly love-wanting. Rocca sacrifices her voluptuous appeal for being a generic laughing stock, yet, Germi unexpectedly proffers her with the most meritorious virtue among the cast, she is the one who is brave enough to elope with her paramour, in sheer contrast with Fefe’s cowardice in nature and subjugation of the small-town’s tunnel vision, which overtly he despises. It elevates her as the most integral character, and overshadows all the others in this rotten family. That’s why her denouement is rather shocking when the cruelty submerged under the farcical guise finally takes a whoop to generate something other than genuine lulz, in fact it is a scorching social commentary using a jaunty allure as a beguiling front. It is further solidified by the killing ending, literally in the last ten-seconds, utterly outsmarts our trepidation of impending bathos. Truth is, this sterling comedy again is a sound testimony that a film can be wholeheartedly diverting and at the same time, sates audience’s intellectual appetite as well, well done, Mr. Germi and his team.

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