Saturday 3 March 2007

Divorce, Italian Style (1961) Pietro Germi

In the Sicilian town of Agromonte, Baron Ferdinando CefalĂș's family are faded aristocracy. However he doesn't care anywhere near as much about how his father has squandered the estate as he does about his young cousin Angela. He's been married to Rosalia for twelve years but he lusts after Angela, who is half his age, gazing at her in church, sneaking into the bathroom at night to look out into his cousin's window opposite and see her sleep. Soon he discovers that she dreams about him too, through her father discovering her diary in which she describes the completely chaste encounter almost like sex. He is livid and fetches in the midwife to check that she's still a virgin, but Ferdinando realises the truth at least before she's sent back to the convent.

The film unfolds like an Almodovar movie. Ferdinando sees inspiration in the trial of Mariannina, who gets eight years for the killing of a man who dishonoured her, and starts working out how he could kill his wife and yet still get a lenient sentence. He's been conjuring up all sorts of visions of his wife's death all along and now he starts conjuring up what the oratory of Mariannina's eloquent lawyer would sound like in his theoretical case. Like the most obvious comparison, Kind Hearts and Coronets, it's a deliciously dark comedy that looks at just how far one man is willing to go to achieve his heart's desire.

Marcello Mastroianni is excellent in the lead, just as calculating though not as clever as Dennis Price's character in that other film. Unfortuantely there's no Alec Guinness to dominate the rest of the cast, the remaining actors being decent but not stunning in support. The screenplay won an Oscar and there were two nominations, for Mastroianni as Best Actor and Pietro Germi for Best Director. Those are major categories to be sure, that highlight how well received this Italian film was with the powers that be in Hollywood. In comparison, Kind Hearts and Coronets won a National Board of Review award for Alec Guinness and nothing else. It didn't get a single Oscar nomination, and while this one is certainly a decent film that I thoroughly enjoyed, I couldn't help but compare the two films throughout and this one came off second best in every regard.

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