divorce italian style (pietro germi, 1961)
Saturday, October 10, 2020
This is the fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 5 is called "Commedia all'italiana Week":
"Commedia all'italiana (i.e. "Comedy in the Italian way") or Italian-style comedy is an Italian film genre...widely considered to have started with Mario Monicelli's I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) in 1958 and derives its name from the title of Pietro Germi's Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961).
Rather than a specific genre, the term indicates a period (approx. from the late fifties to the early seventies) in which the Italian film industry was producing many successful comedies, with some common traits like satire of manners, farcical and grotesque overtones, a strong focus on "spicy" social issues of the period (like sexual matters, divorce, contraception, marriage of the clergy, the economic rise of the country and its various consequences, the traditional religious influence of the Catholic Church) and a prevailing middle-class setting, often characterized by a substantial background of sadness and social criticism that diluted the comic contents."
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Commedia all'italiana film.
I had 160 films to pick from, and I figured I would only have seen a few. Turns out I'd never seen any. So I went with the film from which the name of the genre is derived.
Divorce Italian Style won many honors, including an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen (winning over Last Year at Marienbad, Through a Glass Darkly, Freud, and That Touch of Mink). Marcello Mastroianni was nominated for Best Actor, the first male actor nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in a foreign language performance. Pietro Germi was nominated for Best Director. (They lost to Gregory Peck and David Lean, respectively.) The honors are deserved ... Mastroianni carries the film with a performance that walks a line between serious and absurd, and the screenplay by Germi along with Ennio De Concini and Alfredo Giannetti is perfection. The plot is farce ... Mastroianni plays a nobleman from a dissolute family who is unhappy in his marriage, and in love with his teenage cousin (it's likely mostly lust, but he thinks it's love). Due to ancient Italian law, this man can murder his wife and get off with a lenient sentence if he can show he has been cuckolded, so he sets out to pair his wife with a lover so he can catch them in the act, kill her, spend a few years in jail, and come out to marry his young cousin. The plot advances like clockwork, Stefania Sandrelli is appealing as the cousin, and Daniella Rocca is suitably bothersome as the wife.
The whole thing is a comedy ... "in the Italian way" ... and I smiled quite often. But it is not a laugh-out-loud movie, and while it isn't trying for that effect, I did find myself admiring the film without loving it. Put that on me ... Divorce Italian Style does indeed border on perfection, but I might have wished for a little imperfection.