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Divorce Italian Style
The Criterion Collection
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Baron Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni) longs to marry his nubile cousin Angela, but one obstacle stands in his way: his fatuous and fawning wife, Rosalia. His solution? Since divorce is illegal, he will devise a scenario wherein he can catch his spouse in the arms of another and murder her to save his honor-a lesser offense. Criterion is proud to present director Pietro Germi's hilarious and cutting satire of Italy's hypocritical judicial system and male-dominated culture, winner of the 1962 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, in a two-disc DVD edition that also features a documentary on the director, new interviews with the actors and screenwriter, screen-test footage, and more.
Divorce Italian Style is a comedy milestone--a brilliant, biting satire that was originally conceived as a drama; directed with nonstop inventiveness by a filmmaker who had never done comedy; and featuring an actor who, though not even among the first dozen players considered, cemented his international stardom with this performance. The movie also marked a breakthrough for foreign film in America, winning popular as well art-house success, Academy Award nominations for director Pietro Germi and star Marcello Mastroianni, and--the first of only a few foreign-language films to do so--the Oscar itself for Original Screenplay.
On the sun-blasted island of Sicily, Baron Ferdinand "Fefè" Cefalù (Mastroianni) breaks out of his heat- and boredom-induced stupor long enough to be smitten with mad passion for his 16-year-old cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). But he's married--to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), she of the unfortunate mustache--and the Italian Penal Code gives him no way out... except, of course, for catching his wife in adultery and availing himself of the patriarchal license to commit a "crime of honor." So Fefè searches for a way to fling Rosalia into the arms of another man.
Mastroianni's Fefè is an indelible masterpiece, visually and behaviorally: a portrait in painterly chiaroscuro, with brilliantined hair, eternally drooping eyelids, a cigarette holder angled in perpetual salute, and a manic, conspiratorial slouch, like Groucho Marx on painkillers. Germi's direction hustles the film along with bold, mobile camerawork, stream-of-consciousness lurches into fantasy and flashback, Fefè's feverish voiceover commentary, and a wonderfully propulsive music score by the late Carlo Rustichelli. --Richard T. Jameson
- Pietro Germi: The Man with the Cigar in His Mouth, a 39-minute documentary by critic and filmmaker Mario Sesti
- Delighting in Contrasts, a new 30-minute interview featuring Stefania Sandrelli, Lando Buzzanca, and Mario Sesti
- Rare screen-test footage of actresses Daniela Roca and Stefania Sandrelli
- A new essay by film critic Stuart Klawans
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In the end, he does get to kill her, becomes a local hero and marries the 16 year old niece. But all is not well in this garden of eden.See the film to find out what poetic justice ensues.
Mastoianni and Rocca are just great in their portrayals of an old lecher and a mustachiod wife who deserves to be killed. Italy is the villain with its ridiculous laws and machismo customs.
Pietro Germi followed this up with Seduced and Abandoned, another must see film.
The humor is, like everything in Italy, including the Berlusconi's scandals, blattantly exaggerated, that's why Ilove Italy..
The film opens on a moving train as Fefé exits the public toilet while he bumps into two Sicilian police officers. Quickly Fefé leaves them behind, as he slowly makes his way through gentle zigzagging around other passengers to the dining car. Seated while ordering roast beef and two potatoes, Fefé continues to gaze upon the passing Sicilian countryside, which does not seem to have changed much since the Roman Empire. This is a familiar place for Fefé who begins to disclose an amusing tale of why he is on his way home, as he recollects in homesick manner his hometown Agramonte. This opening has several suggestive nods towards Fefé's character, his family and what is important in Agramonte, which will be comically and profoundly illustrated as the story unfolds.
In the introduction by Fefé the audience learns through his words, the camera, and the actions of the characters that societal progress does not seem to be high on the agenda. Instead the audience learns about how politics and the Catholic Church seem to be intertwined in this small town. The slow progress has generated some very rigid guidelines, which no one seems willing to challenge. In this societal stalemate the men only seem to pay attention and gossip about one thing - women. This is essential information, as it depicts the boredom that helps the withering of the flowers.
The story goes into great detail to depict Fefé's monotonous life. He is unemployed due to social status because he is a Baron, which means that he often sleeps in. Whenever he does not sleep his exceedingly caring and nurturing Rosalia tends to his needs while it actually seems as if she is only annoying him. There is a wonderful scene where Fefé escapes everyone to read in peace and enjoy the soothing breeze from a small fan in his study while Rosalia enters with coffee and turns off the fan. Fefé turns the fan on again while Rosalia turns it off with a smile, as she serves him the coffee. This scene oozes of tension between the two while Fefé keeps his cool and Rosalia tries her best to be a good wife. Yet, it offers him an opportunity to begin to imagine different methods of how he could kill her.
In between Fefé's annoyance and boredom he discovers the stunning teen Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) whom infatuates him with a brief look at mass. Fefé begins to think about Angela while he sneaks to the bathroom to steal a peak at the youthful girl through the window. Eventually, Angela expresses her mutual desire for Fefé, but they have to be careful so they do not cause a scandal, or worse. This provides an opportunity for Fefé to begin to actually think of how to get rid off Rosalia, which turns out to be a comically ugly event as he cannot divorce her by law.
The audience will feel empathy for Rosalia who tries to be a good wife, but Fefé does not allow it by being distant. Simultaneously, one cannot help to feel understanding for Fefé who now begins to study the law and how he possibly could get away with murder. It is a sad thought, even though the presentation of the topic is jovial, that the people are ready to commit the worst possible act in the name of love. Yet, it is also here where the film's strength lays, as it delivers a funny depiction of how a passé society can squelch life and frown upon societal progress, which was a big deal in the 1960s. A notion arises in regards to progress--should one have the freedom to find their own blossoming flower?
Divorce Italian Style offers a well-written and genuine comedy with deliberate intentions for the audience to ponder regarding the society and the social restrictions that govern the unhappy. The cast does a marvelous job in portraying the different characters. For example, Daniela Rocca's illustration of Rosalia provides authentic view of a woman who seeks love form her husband, but does not receive it. In addition, Marcello Mastroianni does a brilliant job through his dual performance in the film by also being in the Fellini's La Dolce Vita, which is shown in the film. However, Mastroianni's visual persona suggests his infatuation with beautiful women that can be explored if one views La Dolce Vita. Lastly, the camera work, mise-en-scene, and the framing of each scene enhance the complete ideas, as they transcends the expectations of the film.