May 29, 2005

"The attorney ... was brilliant, impassioned and sarcastic..."

"... moving and moved. He played the entire scale of emotions with confident precision."

If you're keeping a list of movies about law, be sure to include "Divorce Italian Style." There are only a couple courtroom scenes, but law frames the entire movie, about a man who only needs a divorce, but because the law does not provide that escape, plots to murder his wife in a way that will count as the "heat of passion," punishable by only a short sentence. To do this, he's got to cause her to have an affair and then catch her in the act.

I remember seeing this movie many years ago on a small black and white TV and thinking it was funny but not well photographed. The new Criterion Collection DVD amazed me. The photography is actually quite beautiful, very dark and detailed. Just the thing to get lost entirely on a television from the 1960s.

Even though lately I've grown tired of watching actors act, I loved watching Marcello Mastroianni and Daniela Rocca. Mastroianni is a ridiculous baron, in love with his 16-year-old cousin and tired of his wife, played by Rocca. Why is it funny that he wants to murder her? See the movie. It's funny. The two actors make it funny. I particularly like the way Mastroianni's FeFe endears himself to us even though Rocca's Rosalia has done nothing remotely hateful. What's wrong with her? Just her incredibly annoying desire for love!

Rocca is perfect. She's not ugly or a big nag. She does have a mustache and a monobrow, but the main thing is how irritatingly she begs for love. She not only insists that her husband tell her he loves her every night, but she's ravenous for information about how much he loves her. Since he doesn't love her at all, he's quite put upon. And Mastroianni's a genius at looking put upon.

There's one scene where she brings him coffee, then insists on sipping from his cup. Why not pour her own cup? That's FeFe's weary question. But Rosalia imagines she's doing something sexy and charming.

A really cool thing about the movie is that at one point everyone in town -- a small, claustrophobic place in Sicily -- goes to see the movie "La Dolce Vita." "La Dolce Vita" came out in 1961, one year before "Divorce Italian Style." We see the whole population of the small town watching Anita Ekberg on the big screen, and we never see Marcello Mastroianni as he appears in Roman form in "La Dolce Vita." We just see the Sicilian Marcello Mastroianni, in the audience, trying to work out his miserable little murder scheme.

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