Wednesday, July 27, 2011
DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE
(September 1962, U.S.)
One of the funniest elements of comedy I've ever seen is a situation where a man is in a miserable marriage and experiences explicit fantasies about getting rid of his wife. Jack Lemmon's character did it in HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965). Danny DeVito's character did it in RUTHLESS PEOPLE (1986). Even Hal Holbrook's character in CREEPSHOW (1982) had a moment where he shot his wife to death in front of his party guests, igniting their joyous applause. And just watch John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in any BBC episode of FAWLTY TOWERS to see what I'm talking about. Same thing here, only Italian style...
Outside of Roberto Benigni's films, I haven't seen too much Italian comedy. In fact, if DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE weren't officially labeled as a comedy, you'd swear you were watching one of Federico Fellini's films in that much of Pietro Germi's finely textured direction, black and white cinematography and even dialogue comes close to the great Italian film legend. But a comedy it is, and laugh you do at this wonderful satire. Marcello Mastroianni is Baron Fefé Cefalù, a Sicilian nobleman bored of his life and of his irritating wife Rosalia. He's fallen in love with his young, beautiful (and underage) cousin Angela, who spends summers in the same palace as he and his family. Since divorce is impossible in Italy in the 1960s, he decides to kill his wife, knowing that the prison sentence would be very light if he could prove that he committed murder for a matter of honour, i.e. finding his wife together with another man. The only solution there is to see to it that she finds herself a lover and somehow catch her in the act. Well, that's what tape recorders and drilling holes in the walls of your home are for, right? And let me just say that as the viewer, you support his actions all the way. From the moment we meet his wife and her disgustingly-sugar-sweet clinging attitude toward Fefé, frankly you'd like to put her out of YOUR misery, too! So let's just say that things manage to work out for him in the end...sort of.
The picture that Pietro Germi paints of life in a small Sicilian village is picturesque, much imitated, and quite indelible. The crowded ornate clutter of the family's old estate, the sun-drenched streets and the monolithic stone and mason churches stick with your memory, even haunt it. And don't forget to take note of the director's small homage to Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA which, ironically, also stars Marcello Mastroianni. A moment ago, I used the word imitated - keep in mind that it's probably necessary to calculate the chronilogical order in which many films of this sort were made, including titles by Fellini and De Sica's THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948) before accusing other films of imitating Germi's work. No matter, because I love these old black and white Italian films, regardless of who copied who first. Great film making of this sort is dead in our own country as far as I'm concerned.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Fefé Cefalù (voice-over, referring to Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA): "Preceded by scandal, controversy, protest, critical outcry and hosannas, a sensational film had opened in town. The priest of San Filmino railed against it, warning his flock to boycott it, but to little effect."