DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Marcello Mastroianni, Daniela Rocca, Stefania Sandrelli, Leopoldo Trieste, Ugo
Torrente, Angela Cardile, Lando Buzzanca
Director: Pietro Germi
Audio: Italian monaural
Video: Black & white, widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Pietro Germi: The Man with the Cigar in His Mouth, Delighting in Contrasts, screen-test footage, interview, 28-page booklet
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: April 26, 2005
the vivid imaginations of my townsmen, women took on mythical status."
this confusing modern era of rampant divorces, common-law marriages, and
same-sex unions, one almost begins to feel nostalgic for the "good ol'
days" when a marriage was a simple and sacred vow between a groom and a
bride 'til death did them part. There
were no divorces, and if a fellow tired of his wife, or vice versa - well, too
years ago, the predominately Catholic nation of Italy certainly embraced this
principle. Cultural and social
mores may have changed in the intervening years, but there was indeed a time in
Italy when divorce was illegal, end of discussion.
In fact, the only proper conclusion to any marriage was the eventual
death of a spouse.
this note, we come to the very premise of the satirical black comedy that is
Pietro Germi's Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce
Italian Style, 1961), which completely and amusingly uproots the sanctity of
marriage. How does a married
Italian man, smitten with another woman, squirm his way out of marriage in an
era when divorce is strictly forbidden? Particularly,
if that man happens to be Sicilian, what ought he to do? Well, the basic solution would be to simply kill the wife and
presto-chango, instant divorce, Italian-style.
course, no one is advocating the slightest preponderance of murder as a rational
solution for an unhappy family situation, but it can certainly offer a wealth of
comic potential within a black comedy milieu.
Variations on the theme have played successfully in such classic films as
Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours, Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, Kind Hearts and
Coronets with Alec Guinness, and Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. Divorce
Italian Style is Italian superstar Marcello Mastroianni's turn in the
spotlight, and his performance is a hilarious triumph of slow-burns, nervous
tics, and pitch-perfect comic timing.
Divorce Italian Style is probably the
best-known film by Italian neorealist Pietro Germi. Initially honing his craft in Rome's famous Centro
Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the mid-1940's, Germi gradually became known
primarily as an introverted but gifted director of "serious" films and
dramas. Divorce Italian Style was not only his first comedy and greatest
international success, but it also cemented the worldwide appeal of its
legendary lead actor, Marcello Mastroianni.
the early 1960's, Mastroianni was near the very peak of his tremendous
popularity. Thanks to the
widespread acclaim for his starring role in Frederico Fellini's masterpiece La
Dolce Vita, Marcello Mastroianni became a household name at a time when few
Italian actors were recognized abroad. Germi's
black comedy, with Fellini's 8˝ to
arrive soon thereafter, would establish Mastroianni as the quintessential
Continental lover, a reputation that the actor maintained throughout his career.
Divorce Italian Style, Mastroianni
portrays a bored baron and faux sophisticate by the name of Fefe Cefalů.
Living in the sunny Sicilian town of Agramonte, Fefe is a man accustomed
to having his whims satisfied within Sicily's patriarchal society.
He regularly spies upon his luscious, teen-aged cousin Angela (Stefania
Sandrelli) in her bedroom window and, in an epiphany of desire, decides that he
loves her and must have her for the ideal trophy wife.
Their twenty-year age difference and blood-relation issues aside, there
is another slight obstacle - Fefe is already married to a doting and attentive
wife of over a dozen years, Rosalia (Daniela Rocca).
Rosalia! Her unwavering devotion
becomes almost overbearing to the frustrated Fefe who, after much soul-searching
and fanciful dreaming, decides that the only way to have Angela is to rid
himself of his wife. Under the
obsolete Sicilian penal code, Fefe's best option is to manipulate his wife into
having an extramarital affair, whereupon he would then be justified in
committing a "crime of passion" upon her to restore honor to his name.
In fact, Article 587 of the Sicilian Penal Code is specifically worded to
address such a circumstance: "He
who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in
illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offense
to his honor or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven
a crime of passion, Fefe's only punishment would be a few paltry years'
imprisonment, after which Angela would furthermore be his!
It is a small price for such a lovely reward.
for Fefe, the fact that Rosalia has heretofore remained completely faithful to
the marriage renders many of his concocted ploys useless.
Nevertheless, un-dutiful husband that he is, Fefe endeavors to drive his
wife into the embrace of another man and eventually finds that ideal candidate
in Carmelo Patane (Leopoldo Trieste), a suitor from Rosalia's youthful past.
Such are the trappings of lust and fickle love!
Fefe's nubile sixteen-year old cousin Angela might as well be an Italian
Lolita for the irrepressible urges and Machiavellian determination she arouses
hypocrisy of Sicilian male-dominated cultural mores is further revealed in Fefe's
own attitude towards his own sister, Agnese (Angela Cardile).
He repeatedly stumbles across Agnese in intimate situations with young
Rosario Mule (Lando Buzzanca), a man not yet her husband, but Fefe gives these
chance encounters no second thought, a running joke in the film that further
serves to add an element of the ridiculous to Fefe's own crazy schemes.
being a small town, the mélange of dramatic and comic scenes which ensue
provides a sort of social theater for bemused friends, neighbors, and onlookers
alike. After all, in the stiflingly
hot Sicilian climate that lingers like a perpetually lethargic haze over the
beaches, streets, and sun-bleached villas, there is simply nothing much else to
do or watch. Such voracious
communal gossip is, in a sense, akin to Fefe's own addiction to voyeurism of his
cousin as well as his own wife.
addition, Fefe's infatuation with Angela may well be borne not just of boredom
with his own marriage and lust for youthful excitement but also perhaps of an
unspoken resentment of his uncle, Don Calogero (Ugo Torrente).
Angela's father, Don Calogero has bought up much of the Cefalů real
estate and holdings over the years, rendering Fefe's own family relatively
destitute. To ensnare Angela would
not only do certain grievous injury upon his uncle's pride and honor, but it
would also ensure that the Cefalů wealth remain strictly with the Cefalůs.
story, narrated in a straight manner, might seem pretty despicable.
But as a black comedy, Divorce Italian Style succeeds rather well and provides a satirical
poke at the double standard of Sicilian machismo. Possessing a passionate yet humorous tone, Germi's film has
lost little of its stinging wit and bite over the years and remains as enjoyable
now as forty years ago. Culture
standards and social rules of acceptance may have changed since Divorce Italian Style was first released, but base human desires and
emotions never do. Perhaps in the
annals of human history, no emotion more than love has caused so much anguish,
heartbreak, or laughter.
is presented in its original black & white, 1.85 aspect ratio.
The transfer was created from the 35mm original negative onto a
dual-layer DVD-9 disc and looks near-pristine.
Details are sharp with crystal-clear definition.
There are no discernible scratches and dust specks and only a mild
density pulsing from time to time. The
transfer rate averages 8 Mbps.
is presented in its original Italian with optional English subtitles. As with all Italian soundtracks of this era, the audio is
post-dubbed with the usual, occasionally mismatched lip-synching.
This is a characteristic of Italian films of the time and does not
reflect an error in the transfer process. The
soundtrack was mastered from the original optical soundtrack negative and a
pleasantly-restored soundtrack. For
a monaural film, Divorce Italian Style sounds quite nice.
arrives from Criterion as a double-disc set.
The first disc contains the movie, while the second disc holds the bonus
features. I would recommend
watching the film first before exploring the contents of the second disc.
first feature on the second disc is Pietro
Germi: The Man with the Cigar in His Mouth (39 min.).
This documentary, narrated by critic and filmmaker Mario Sesti, takes a
look at the career of the Italian director and his unorthodox script-writing and
directorial methods. Germi's former
cast and crew colleagues recall working on the set of Germi's various films and
even remember his abilities as an actor. Photographs,
movie clips, and rare behind-the-scenes footage are interspersed throughout the
documentary to provide more insight into Germi as a personality and as a
second documentary, Delighting in
Contrasts (27 min.), features interviews with Stefania Sandrelli and Lando
Buzzanca. The actors speak candidly
about their initial encounters with Germi and their impressions of him.
They also relate anecdotes about working on the set of Divorce
Italian Style. In addition,
filmmaker Mario Sesti appears for further commentary on Germi's cinematic style,
personal beliefs, and artistic talent.
is also an interview (7 min.) with Ennio De Concini. The screenwriter discusses how he, along with Germi, adapted
the premise behind the Arpino book "Crime of Honor" for Divorce
Italian Style. De Concini
speaks about the film's reception and star Mastroianni's generosity, too.
Coincidentally, Divorce Italian
Style was nominated for and won the 1962 Oscar for Best Screenplay.
final extras provided on the disc are rare screen-tests (8 min.) for actresses
Daniela Rocca and Stefania Sandrelli.
a 28-page booklet is included and contains essays from film critic Stuart
Klawans, director Martin Scorsese, and film historian Andrew Sarris.
"The Facts (and Fancies) of Murder," by Klawans, focuses on the
film's themes, motivations behind the character of Fefe, and also briefly on
Germi's directorial career. "Pietro
Germi: Idealist with No Illusions," by Andrew Sarris, defends the director,
offers more background about his films and his acting career while rebuking
Germi's reputation as a supposedly "lesser" neorealist director. "On Divorce Italian Style," by Martin Scorsese,
reflects over the effect of Italian cinema upon the notable American director's
own career. Scorsese particularly
elaborates on how Divorce Italian Style's
emotional tone, with its occasionally primal or savage interludes, and tight
pacing influenced Scorsese's own masterpiece Goodfellas.