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  Divorce Italian Style Not The Man She Married
Year: 1961
Director: Pietro Germi
Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Daniela Rocca, Stefania Sandrelli, Leopoldo Trieste, Odoardo Spadaro, Margherita Girelli, Angela Cardile, Landa Buzzanca, Pietro Tordi, Ugo Torrente, Antonio Acqua, Bianca Castagnetta, Giovanni Fassiolo
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Baron Ferdinando Cefalu (Marcello Mastroianni) has what he considers to be a big problem: he no longer loves his wife, Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), because he is now in love with his cousin, Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). The solution in many other countries outside of Italy would be to divorce the wife and remarry, but divorce is illegal there, which means you're stuck with whomever you first married for life, even if the marriage becomes unbearable for both parties. Fefe, as he is called by his family, has worked out a way around this: in between fantasising about ways to despatch his other half, he settled on what he believes is an ingenious idea, which is to have a valid excuse to commit murder. But it will take a lot of planning to carry off...

Divorce Italian Style was a huge hit when it was released in the early nineteen-sixties, earning Oscar nominations (it snagged one statuette) as it grew to be a sensation in world cinema, since nobody could have conceived a comedy with such a grim premise could be achieved with such a lightness of touch from director Pietro Germi and his leading man Mastroianni. The latter was enjoying a new peak in his career, for he had recently starred in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita which Germi cheekily put a clip of in this movie to highlight the hypocrisy of his fellow Italians who would flock to a supposedly immoral picture for entertainment, yet would not reform the divorce laws which saw a crime of passion the sole method of extricating oneself from a loveless marriage.

Yes, you would go to prison for murder if you killed your spouse for, say, adultery, but not for very long as you would essentially be excused after a brief while as the court would accept you had been driven to this act of death. Here is where Fefe has decided to construct his own crime, and Mastroianni essayed his role with an impeccable cool, daring the audience to indulge him as he schemes to take a human life, and all because his sixteen-year-old cousin seems far preferable to his spouse. That the Italians could regard that as reasonable - the antihero is in his late thirties, so no spring chicken - was another reason why Germi was so excoriating towards the society he had been brought up in, and indeed was still living in, and his accusations made with a steely clarity certainly hit home in his country of origin, where it indirectly led to the reform its main character so desperately wanted.

Divorce became legal in Italy in 1970, much to the protests of the Catholic Church, but times were changing and the premise of this effort was to turn obsolete. Nevertheless, it continued to have its impact as a classic of the sixties, returned to again and again as a favourite in that part of the world and in other places as well, mostly among movie buffs. Here's where the "but" butts in, as while you imagine it had been pretty daring in 1961, with modern eyes Fefe is simply too despicable to sympathise with, no matter how well he was played by the star. We see Rosalia through his eyes as a moustachioed monster with an irritating cackle of a laugh, but no matter how often he tells us how awful she was in comparison to Angela, it's difficult to write off the wife completely as she just does not come across as worthy of violent death. When there's a twist that she may not be as innocent as she appears, you're more pleased she may get away from Fefe instead of falling victim to him, and while you take Germi's points and criticism, this just wasn't that funny. What you were left with was a keen critique, one excellent performance from Mastroianni, a neat ending, and a lot of very sour scenes throughout. Music by Carlo Rustichelli.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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