Divorce, Italian Style


The capstone of Film Forum’s Pietro Germi mini-retrospective is the director’s most popular work, his mid-career turn to wheeling commedia all’italiana (this movie gave the genre its moniker) after compiling an eclectic filmography with roots in Neorealism. This deeply amoral morality tale concerns a provincial Sicilian aristocrat, Baron Cefalu (Marcello Mastroianni, suggesting a dissipated seal, with pomaded scalp buffed to a brilliant shine). The unraveled end of his family line, the Baron spends endless idle hours scheming to fulfill two fixated fantasies: breaching the maidenhead of his nubile young cousin and disposing of his harrowingly doting wife. In turns antic and hothouse sexy, buoyant and bilious, the movie’s a model of graceful bustling, keeping a village full of characters (and their running gags) in circulation, with every just-so setup showing unimpeachable instinct. As the film glissades along, it’s obvious Germi hasn’t abandoned sociology in his transition to comedy. Aside from satirizing musty Italian civil code, he fires off a smartly observed rejoinder to La Dolce Vita‘s claim to represent the spirit of the times, as Fellini’s opus hits town as a road show, playing for a worn-out Southern audience light years removed from Il Boom, for whom decadence is about as relevant as the latest Maciste flick.