Divorce, Italian Style (1961)

“There’s no divorce in Italy, but the law is lenient in matters of honor.”

Divorce Italian Style Poster

Synopsis:
With divorce illegal in Italy, an unhappily married Sicilian (Marcello Mastroianni) in love with his younger cousin (Stefania Sandrelli) plots to catch his wife (Daniela Rocca) in the arms of another man (Leopoldo Trieste) and murder her in an “honor killing”.

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Review:
Divorce, Italian Style was an international box office hit upon its release, and it’s easy to see why. Director Pietro Germi (who originally set out to make a serious film) perfectly captures the Sicilian “code of honor”, which stipulates that murder can be excused, but divorce is unthinkable — a paradoxical ethos which is ripe for satirization. Marcello Mastroianni (fresh off of his performance in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita) is wonderful in the lead role, playing a man we want to despise, but instead can’t help giggling at: his perennial deadpan expression and occasional facial twitches are truly hilarious. Fortunately, the plot of Divorce is never predictable — there are enough twists and turns to keep us in constant anticipation about what will happen next. When Cefalu (Mastroianni) conveniently discovers that his wife has a prior love interest, for instance, he doesn’t show even the slightest twinge of jealousy. And the conclusion — an extremely clever final shot — is the epitome of sweet justice.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marcello Mastroianni’s performance; as noted in the New York Times review (see link below), “Not since Charlie Chaplin’s beguiling Verdoux have we seen a deliberate wife killer so elegant and suave.”
    Couple
  • An effective film score by Carlo Rustichelli

Must See?
Yes. This comedic gem — which garnered Mastroianni an Oscar nomination, and won an Oscar for best original screenplay — should be seen by all film fanatics. It’s listed in the back of Peary’s book as a Personal Recommendation and a film with historical importance.

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One Response to “Divorce, Italian Style (1961)”

  1. A once-must, for Mastroianni’s performance – and as a fine example of ’60s Italian comedy.

    While this may not be the kind of film that easily lends itself to repeat viewings (it’s been years since I’d last seen it), ‘DIS’ is still quite entertaining from start to finish, for reasons brought out in the review. Because the satire is quite clearly laid out (broadly) from the get-go, it’s possible to almost completely forget that murder is all that serious a crime. Of course, the film also lightheartedly presents men almost as a collective group of sexual predators – but, of course, this *is* Italy; so take that as you will. 😉

    I like the many sequences which are inventive examples of extremes – in particular, the involved process by which Mastroianni attempts to record verbal proof of his wife’s infidelity. (As well, a nice touch is the pointed reference to ‘La Dolce Vita’, and the effect that that film’s opening had on the town and its people.)

    On the Blue Underground DVD release of ‘The 10th Victim’, there is a full-length documentary about Mastroianni’s life and career. FFs with particular interest in the actor will find it satisfying, as it is a rather thorough overview. He made a remarkable number of films – and perhaps it is then not surprising when he states that he felt he had no real life outside of his life in front of the camera (even if the aspect of fame appears to have had much less personal appeal for him).

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