“Divorce, Italian Style” – Mathew Plale

 

We Americans — we simple, uninspired Americans — sign on the dotted line, cowering behind “Irreconcilable Differences.” Italians divorce with flair…at least in 1960s Italy. Of course, divorce is illegal at the time, and thus equates itself with murder. All the more fun in this Sicily-set, ink-black comedy from Pietro Germi, who received an Academy Award nomination for directing and won for writing Divorce, Italian Style.

 

The story centers on baron Fefè Cefalù (nominee Marcello Mastroianni), who by law cannot divorce his wife, Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), whom he sees as a pain in the neck (and down to the feet). So why not kill her? Not that easy — he needs to find a lover for Rosalia so that when he finally pulls the trigger, the judge will find the act as one of protecting his “honor.” We buy into this idea because it’s a comedy, otherwise, the lady (whose mustache is filling in quite nicely) loyally cares for her husband — no matter how carelessly.

 

Not the most sympathetic of Mastroianni’s characters — Fefè is the sort that sneaks into the bathroom to spy on his cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), who would graduate a few years ahead of Lolita. He’s sort of more, eh, “charming” than the sleazy deviant Humbert Humbert, though still victimized by an alluring smile. He’s simply had just about enough of his wife unplugging his fan while the town’s heat index rises. He wants to run off with Angela, not kidnap her.

 

And what’s to stop him? Not his conscience. He even ignores it when he stumbles upon his sister rustling in the bushes with her fiancé. No time for that nonsense, he’s got to find a suitor for his wife!

 

Fefè clouds his mind with verbal imaginings of the attorney’s brush-off of his crime and humorous fantasies of murder, some textbook (one quick bullet), most cartoonish (cauldron of boiling water, quicksand, launching the bat into outer space). But at times, Divorce abandons its own distinct, post-Neo Realism style, running rampant in madcap fast-motion, ala “The Munsters” or “The Three Stooges.” Leave it to vaudeville, Germi.

 

The joy of Divorce, Italian Style comes in the viewers’ bloodlust. The film takes a time-out to note the criticism the Church laid on Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (also starring Mastroianni). We should feel guilty about what’s on the screen, Germi suggests. Maybe so…but murder’s just too much fun!

 

Rating: ★★★☆

 

-Mathew Plale

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