Divorce Italian Style
October 5, 2005
Divorce Italian Style (1962) was originally intended to be a drama but the final result is a biting satire of Sicilian machismo. Baron Ferdinando “Fefe” Cefalu (Mastroianni) and his wife, Rosalia (Rocca), have been married for 12 years. She adores him but he doesn’t love her anymore. He only has eyes for his cousin, Angela (Sandrelli), a beautiful young girl. Fefe feels as if his wife is smothering him and can’t stand it anymore. She is always talking to him and never giving him a moment’s peace. Life with his wife is literally draining the life from him. He always looks tired and Mastroianni conveys this through his droopy eye lids and defeated posture.
Fefe begins fantasizing about killing her in all kinds of different ways: stabbing her in the back and then dumping her body in the vat that makes soap or watching her sink in quicksand or launching her off in a rocket bound for outer space. For the first third of the movie, he walks around like a lovesick teenager lamenting about Angela. He wants desperately to be with her but has to figure out a way to get rid of his wife and not get caught.
Fefe becomes inspired by a local trial where a woman killed her cheating husband in a crime of passion and was punished with a relatively light sentence. So, he decides to plan something similar by driving his wife into the arms of another man and then kill her in a justifiable rage. This, he figures, will free him up to ultimately be with Angela.
Marcello Mastroianni plays the bored aristocrat well. He looks the part with his slicked back hair, the almost pencil-thin moustache and ubiquitous cigarette holder. He’s vain, always looking at himself in a mirror. At the beginning of the film he is all macho swagger but as the film progresses it is revealed to be all show with nothing to back it up. Mastroianni is also able to swing back and forth between broad and subtle comedy. The latter is achieved by how he uses his eyes and facial expressions of a whimsical nature, including a repeating gesture involving the corner of his mouth rising in a half smirk.
The film isn’t entirely a rollicking comedy. It does have its moments of poignancy. There is an excellent shot early on as Fefe looks out his bathroom window at the moon in the night sky and spots Angela asleep in her room. The look of absolute yearning on his face says it all. In a nice bit of self-reflexivity, the whole town goes to see Fellini’s then controversial movie, La Dolce Vita (1962), which, of course, starred Mastroianni. This is perhaps the most telling moment of Divorce Italian Style as Germi critiques Fellini’s depiction of the shallow, decadent lives of the elite in Rome in the look of the unromanticized faces of the modest to poor people of the village who are watching the movie.
While most of the Italian Neo-Realists eventually went on to make the slick, professional movies that they were rebelling against early on in their careers, Germi never forgot his roots and stayed true to them even when he made an irreverent comedy like Divorce Italian Style. And yet, it so much more than that as Germi explores the problems that arise between married people with unflinching honesty.
“The Man with a Cigar in His Mouth” is a 39-minute documentary on director Pietro Germi. Friends and collaborators talk about his working methods while loved ones speak about what he was like. Germi is described as a shy man who would often listen and chew on his cigar. Many of the anecdotes that are told paint a picture of a filmmaker with a definite vision and an unorthodox way of conveying it to those around him.
“Delighting in Contrasts” features interviews with actors Stefania Sandrelli and Lando Buzzanca and filmmaker/critic Mario Sesti. Divorce Italian Style was originally meant to be a drama but the tweaking of the tragic elements transformed it into a comedy. They talk about his working methods and, in particular, Divorce Italian Style.
“De Concini” is a brief interview with the film’s screenwriter, Ennio de Concini. The film was based on a book called Crime of Honor. At first, Concini did not want to make another crime of passion movie and so he transformed it into a comedy instead of a drama. He mentions that for the first three days it did awful business at the box office but by the fourth day it took off.
Finally, there are “Screen Tests” for Stefania Sandrelli, and Daniela Rocca. They read lines and patiently submit to lighting tests. It is obvious from their readings that these women were the right choices for their respective roles.