DivorceItalian Style(1962): Film Analysis
Though Divorce Italian Style is dedicated to the theme of love and family relationships in Italy, the true subject of the film is the role played by the law and religion in decaying Italian society. The film represents Italians in their constant search for something new that is triggered by the sense of dissatisfaction. Yet, even if Italians act immorally, they beforehand think over a plan how to misconduct in a lawful way and in the manner approved by the Church. Actually, the film makes a statement about Italian men and women’s infidelity covered by the image of morality, religious commitment and law abidance. Narrative and acting contribute most to the representation of the film’s true subject.
Thereare specific scenes addressing the film’s theme. For example, thescenes of Ferdinando (Fefe) Cefalù’s thinking about a potentialdefence speech of his lawyer during the trial for Rosalia’s killingshow that the main character wants to use the law (the right to honorprotection) to kill his wife and get a minimum prison term. Thescenes of all Italians’ visits to the church and all Italians’visit to the cinema where the scandalous and immoral film is screenedspeak about Italian society’s moral façade and corrupt core. Thescene of Ferdinando and Rosalia’s coming to the church, in turn,explains why Italian husbands and wives commit adultery.Significantly, the answer is hidden in Rosalia’s words: “Fefe, Ifeel a strange dissatisfaction deep inside” (Germi). That is tosay, the scene shows that both men and women are constantlydissatisfied with what they have. As a result, Fefe loves his cousinAngela instead of his wife Rosalia, Rosalia wants to live out herdream of love affairs with Carmelo, and Angela feels a sympathy fora young man already after her becoming Fefe’s wife. That way, thefilm represents the theme of Italian society’s moral decay, yet, inaccordance with religious and lawful norms.
All five film elements relate to the theme of Divorce Italian Style.
First of all, the narrative assists the understanding of the story as such as well as clarifies the main character’s thoughts and desires. The sequence of the story events is chronological. So, the order of events is clear. Yet, it is Fefe who narrates the whole story on the basis of his memories which are represented by the man already during his way home after the confinement. As a result, there are both flashbacks and descriptions of Fefe’s wishful thinking about his wife’s death. What is more, the main character’s thinking over his lawyer’s defence speech also significantly contributes to the story plot. All those narrative devices are used to help the audience’s understanding of Fefe’s way of thinking and plan of his wife’s isolation. That way, the narrative contributes to the theme’s addressing and the central purpose of the film, that is, to show Italians’ use of the law and religion to cover malicious intents and misdeeds.
The acting is the second element of the film significantly contributing to the theme and the total effect of Divorce Italian Style. All actors skillfully get into their characters: Marcello Mastroianni represents a cunning baron Ferdinando Cefalù willing to replace his wife with young Angela. Daniela Rocca lives the part of Rosalia, the devoted wife whose husband loves another woman. Stefania Sandrelli skillfully represents her character, young girl Angela who feels sympathetic to Ferdinando. The acting is realistic and thus helps to immerse in the atmosphere specific to Italian society at the time when divorces were illegal. So, the actors’ performance conveys thoughts, feelings, and emotions of real people living then and there.
Actually,the characters are extremely dynamic, as they change along with theplot’s development. More specifically, Fefe progresses from ahusband simply loving his cousin to the husband ready to kill hiswife just to get rid of the latter and clear the way for the belovedcousin. Though he does not know whether he really wants to killRosalia and Carmelo, he decides to follow the example of Carmelo’swife (who kills Carmelo) and kills Rosalia to avenge his honor.Another dynamic character is Rosalia. At the beginning of the filmshe is a devoted loving wife who wants to know that her Fefe lovesher too. Yet, when Carmelo returns, she does not love Fefe anylonger. Angela is the third character changing along with the plot’sdevelopment. The young woman shows her love to Ferdinando up to theend of the film, when she kisses Ferdinando but touches the foot ofanother (young) man.
Cinematography also relates to the theme of the film. In fact, both the quality of the photography and lighting help to draw the audience’s attention to the central theme. The photography represents the atmosphere in which Italians live and interact with each other. Also, the photography depicts the context of Italians’ life: all Italians seemingly attempt to follow God and act as law-abiding citizens. In this respect, the lighting makes the audience’s focus on those aspects. For example, the scene of numerous Italians’ presence on the trial for Ferdinando’s killing his wife is skillfully shot due to the quality of the photography and the lightning’s accentuation of significant details (Italians’ interest and facial expressions) and shadowing of unimportant aspects.
Editing, in turn, promotes the most effective representation of the film’s theme. Throughout the film, both the pace and tempo are medium. That way, the film’s director conveys the idea of the events’ gradual development as well as shows Ferdinando’s unhasting thinking over his plan of Rosalia’s killing. Moreover, the medium tempo helps to concentrate better on Fefe’s thoughts and thus step by step follow his decisions. Yet, quick transitions between scenes and shots contribute to the film’s dynamics. For example, various photographs of churches are quickly replaced by the scene of all Italians’ coming to the central church, and then the camera already shoots Fefe in the process of his thinking about his love to Angela during the divine service. That way, the director shows the place of religion and adultery in the life of Italians. Another example of the film’s dynamics is seen in the scene when Ferdinando thinks about his wife’s killing in one room, while Rosalia and Carmelo are talking about their love in the next room. The director manages to cover the two moments with the help of the actions’ alternation. Notably, cross-cutting is the most interesting editing technique used in Divorce Italian Style.
Art direction and design ultimately add to the theme’s addressing and the total effect of the film. The events take place in the town of Agramonte, Italia. So, the sets are relevant: houses in the Italian style, numerous churches, and broad streets. Along with explosive behavior of the main characters, props add to the creation of the atmosphere specific to Italian society. More specifically, guns and cigarettes are used as an integral part of most Italians’ life, while natural make-up and costumes (best clothing for the church, night-gowns and informal clothing for home affairs) introduce Italians’ way of clothing and self-presentation depending on an event and a location. Anyway, all these elements assist the understanding of how Italians lived at the time when divorces were unofficial in the society dominated by the Church.
The director of Divorce Italian Style is Pietro Germi. Germi focuses on socio-moral satires. Notably, his 1962 film can be seen as a satire on Italian society’s moral decay. Thus, his style asserts itself in numerous scenes dedicated to the life within Italian society in general and within the Cefalù family in particular. The latter is a social unit, so its life is similar to that of other Italian families. The scenes of the Cefalù family’s visits to the church, the family relationships as well as Ferdinando, Rosalia and Angela’s moral decay show the director’s style in the best way, as they allow seeing the corrupt core of Italian society’s moral façade.
Divorce Italian Style caused conflicting emotions in me. On the one hand, I see that Italians were deprived of a possibility to divorce and thus could invent various plans to get rid of their unloved spouses. On the other hand, a murder of another person is an immoral deed, as none has the right to kill. Yet, I like the film, as I understand that it is a satire designed to help Italians and other nations to stop the path to nowhere.
Germi,Pietro, director. DivorceItalian Style.Embassy Pictures, 1962.