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Divorce Italian Style (Criterion Collection)
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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
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Ferdinando Cefalú (Marcello Mastroianni) is a middle-aged Sicialian noble who is displeased with his life, and his adoring wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). In true midlife-crisis fashion, he falls for his angelic-looking cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), but he can't get a divorce. Divorce isn't allowed in Italy at this time, so Ferdinando is left stewing over his problems, fantasizing about murdering Rosalia.
But then he hears about an odd law: if an adulterous spouse is caught in flagrante, then the wronged spouse can kill the adulterer and get off with a light prison sentence. So Ferdinando starts desperately searching for a potential lover for Rosalia, but she remains faithful. Then he locates an ex-boyfriend of hers, hoping to rekindle the old flame. But nothing goes quite according to plan...
Yes, it's a bit sick. But in such a funny way that it really doesn't offend. At a certain point it becomes less about Ferdinando trying to murder his wife, as it is an increasingly overwrought attempt to get her to commit adultery. Not to mention a spoof on traditional views on "family honor," where it is more shocking to NOT kill your adulterous spouse than it is to do so.
Ferdinando carefully straddles the line between being slime and being a funny character -- his surreal murder fantasies are hilarious, such as when he shoves Rosalia into a vat of soap.Read more ›
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