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The Criterion Collection presents
Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio all'Italiana) (1961)

Rosalia: Have you ever wondered what the purpose of our lives is?
Fefé: No. What is it?
Rosalia: To love. We live to love. If we wasn't to love...
Fefé: 'Weren't.' If we 'weren't' to love.

- Daniela Rocca, Marcello Mastroianni

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 26, 2005

Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Stefania Sandrelli, Daniela Rocca
Director: Pietro Germi

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some violence and sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:44m:41s
Release Date: April 26, 2005
UPC: 037429202524
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+A-B+ B+

DVD Review

In the town of Agramonte, a man peers out longingly from a sun-baked window sill. Small opera glasses are the tool of choice here. The target? The alluring 16-year-old Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). Ah, Angela! Such a portrait of picturesque beauty. A ripe flower among the wilted casualties of southern Italy's heat. As Baron Ferdinando "Fefé" Cefalú (Marcello Mastroianni) looks on from his bathroom perch at his fetching cousin, a knock interrupts the reverie. It is his relative, of course; the mansion is packed with them, or at least what is left of the mansion. Debt and the jobless existence of an Italian aristocrat have forced Fefé into becoming a landlord. His family is confined to one solitary wing, but at least it has a good view. Fefé exits, his father enters, takes out his own binoculars, and resumes the peeping.

Though times are tough, money is the least of Fefé's worries. He is stuck with his oafish wife, the once comely Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), to whom time has not been kind. Rosalia's formerly cherubic face has taken on the shadow of a faint mustache and a unibrow (painted in for comic effect), but at least she still has her shapely hips. Regardless, she remains as oppressive as the midday heat, forcing her affections on the unwilling Baron, who wants nothing more than to sit in solitude with his fan, which is promptly turned off by his wife as a prelude to hot coffee. The only source of true relief is the heavenly Angela, driving the wheels of conspiracy. Divorce is illegal, but catching one's wife in the arms of another holds possibility, and murder in the heat of passion is sympathetic in the local court (more of a community theater than a house of justice). When Rosalia's former suitor re-enters the picture, Fefé sees the opportunity for the loss of honor, revenge, and the freedom to satisfy his lust unfettered.

Divorce Italian Style is director Pietro Germi's first comedy, and what a wonder it is. Though neorealist drama was Germi's genre of comfort, his skill shines in this biting, darkly comedic look at male machismo and the pettiness of unchangeable small town Italy. Though criticism of culture is present here, there are also unmistakable moments of loving observation. It can certainly be seen as satirical, but I find these characters to be perfectly believable. Germi's style is very inventive and rapid fire, utilizing various film speeds, voiceover, and semi-documentary portions that reappear with great skill in Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas. Indeed, Scorsese is a devotee of Germi's gem, and it's easy to see why. This is a precisely crafted film that races along with stunning black-and-white imagery.

The script, which won the 1962 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, is certainly effective, though somewhat formulaic. No doubt, this is a stylistically innovative effort for the time, but I couldn't help but notice the plot's predictability and occasionally labored devices. This is very easy to forgive, however; the witty, socially detailed story works well and thoroughly entertains, regardless of an audience's clairvoyance. Going beyond the crafty schemes and fantastical flashbacks of Fefé (who dreams up all kinds of ways for her wife to die in blissful tragedy), screenwriter Ennio De Concini has painted a wonderful portrait of Sicilian life. In a rather self-reflexive moment, the intrusion of Fellini's explosive La Dolce vita is explored, and promptly shunned by the town priest for its lewd content. The circles of social power, in which the Baron is inexorably intertwined (much to his advantage), are captured through the mind's eye of Ferdinando, to which we are privy.

Why isn't this letch of a man more reprehensible to us? Well, aside from the fact this is a comedy, only two words can provide a clear answer: Marcello Mastroianni. This is his film, through and through. With slicked-back hair, a long slender cigarette holder, droopy eyes, and a nervous smack from the corner of his mouth, Mastroianni makes this dreadful human being a joy to watch, and dare I say it, even root for. The persona of this masterful actor is integral to our support. Likewise, Daniela Rocca does a fine job of capturing the Baron's fawning wife; it's difficult to make someone so loving come off as a complete annoyance (Fefé would rather correct her grammar than give in to her advances). Other supporting roles, including the stunning Stefania Sandrelli, shine.

Even if the self-proclaimed intellectual Fefé achieves his goal, will he find happiness? Somehow I suspect the wheels of conspiracy will turn once more, shedding love and loyalty for the next lusty mark.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Criterion's anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is superb, as usual. The contrast-heavy black-and-white imagery is full of detail. Some process shots can look a bit rougher (such as before/after a dissolve, etc.), but this is a small issue. No major complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalianno


Audio Transfer Review: The Italian monaural audio is relatively clean, clear and detailed. A fine mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Double alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Screen test footage of actors Sefania Sandrelli and Daniela Rocca
  2. 28-page booklet
  3. Color bars
Extras Review: Criterion's two-disc set, which features some charming cartoonish cover art and menus, begins with The Man with a Cigar in His Mouth (38m:48s), a documentary by critic and filmmaker Mario Sesti. The piece features interviews with the director's friends and collaborators, covering various aspects of production, and some interesting anecdotes. The audio is a bit rough on this, but there are some fine comments to be had. This section also includes brief text screen with biographical information on Sesti.

Next is Delighting in Contrasts (30m:39s), a new collection of interviews shot in Rome in 2003-04. Stefania Sandrelli, Lando Buzzanca and Mario Sesti discuss Peitro Germi, Divorce Italian Style, and the film's impact. You will also find a brief interview with screenwriter Ennio De Concini (07m:09s), filmed for the Italian DVD release. This is the only interview piece presented in anamorphic widescreen.

You will also find a pair of screen tests for actors Stefania Sandrelli (04m:35s) and Daniela Rocca (03m:48s) in rather clean anamorphic 1.85:1. This is a rare and welcome addition.

Finally, a 28-page booklet contains a new essay by film critic Stuart Klawans and reprinted pieces by Martin Scorsese (whose entry is more of an eloquent fan letter) and film historian Andrew Sarris. These bits are quite informative, ranging from critical comments to information of the film's cinematic context.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Pietro Germi's comedy debut is a dark, raging, innovative spectacle. Mastroianni is masterful as a quirky, refined aristocrat scheming for new love; he makes us guilty of rooting for the bad guy. Criterion's effort is sublime.

 


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