Divorce Italian Style
In these days of drive-in, no fault divorces it seems rather quaint that a husband in a loveless (at least from his point of view) marriage cannot merely serve the requisite papers, work out a monthly alimony plan and move on with his life. Divorce Italian Style however resides in early 1960s Italy where marriage was indissolute and ’til death do us part meant exactly that. Happily our protagonist Ferdinando sees that very phrase as his loophole out: if he can’t divorce then he will have to kill.
It transpires Ferdinando is the scion of an aristocratic Sicilian family, who have fallen on such hard times his father has retreated the family into one solitary wing of the ancestral mansion and sold the rest to his nouveau riche brother-in-law. He makes it clear he is a cut above the lumpen proles who make up the mass of the local town and claims a university degree but remains dissolute and louche, never engaging in a moment’s work and being waited on continually by servants, sisters, aunts and mothers. His wife is charming enough, attentive and clearly besotted but his roving eye has settled on his cousin Angela, the nubile daughter of the nouveau brother-in-law.
This on its own is tough enough nut to crack since Angela’s father is something of a thug, forever threatening his daughter over her amorous yearnings, imagined or otherwise. But the real hurdle is Ferdinando’s wife, the type of hearty Mediterranean who will live to be 110 and cling every closer to him with each passing year.
After engaging in a number of daydream fantasies that see her consumed by quicksand, gunshot and drowned in a soap barrel Ferdinando realises the path to his freedom lies in enticing her into adultery then killing her to avenge his honour. The church forgiving crimes of passion much more readily than divorce.
Rooted in neo-realism this is clearly a comedy and the early fantastical thoughts of murder are redolent of Rex Harrison’s perfectly planned killing in Unfaithfully Yours. The film becomes a lot more kinetic when Ferdinando launches his master plan, one that involves bringing his wife’s former lover into their house and the story starts to shape up and shed some of its earlier goofball moments; a good thing as Italian drama from this era had a tendency to vere towards the adolescent.
The cast is a pitch perfect with Marcello Mastroianni and Daniela Rocca playing nicely off one another, this was put forward as Italy’s foreign language Oscar entry in the year of its release and walked away with the statue for Best Original Screenplay. Well worth your time.
Divorce Italian Style aka Divorzio all’italiana – directed by Pietro Germi (1961)
Feeling trapped in an unwanted marriage, a dissolute aristocrat decides his only route to freedom and into the arms of his young lover is murder.
Film clip here