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Archive for August 29th, 2012

by Marilyn Ferdinand

In the 1960s, the flower of Italian cinema finally came into full bloom on the international scene. Of course, Italian movie makers had been producing stellar work since at least the 1940s. But it was in 1960 that Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita created a worldwide sensation. Suddenly, Italian cinema was all the rage, with Fellini leading the charge and Marcello Mastrioanni, the star of La Dolce Vita, the very symbol of disaffection that would come to characterize that tumultuous decade.

There were fainter lights in the Italian sky whose work also received recognition at the time but who have faded with the years. One of them was Pietro Germi. A skilled screenwriter and veteran director, Germi originally conceived of Divorce, Italian Style (1961) as a tragedy, but the story’s possibilities pushed him and screenwriter Ennio De Concini to the extreme edges of comedy. So admired was the screenplay when it made the rounds that Mastrioanni, then a big star, agreed to do a screen test to win the part of murder-minded Baron Ferdinando “Fefe” Cefalú from Germi’s original choice, Anthony Quinn. The film that resulted is one of the funniest and biting I have ever seen, with a visual humor Billy Wilder would have envied.

Agrigento, Sicily is the setting for this burlesque—an important point because divorce was illegal there at this time. Fefe has been married for more than a decade to Rosalia (Daniela Rocco), a foolish middlebrow who has gotten on his very last nerve. Fefe and Rosalia live with Fefe’s parents in a wing of the Cefalú manor house—all that is left of the noble family’s fortune. In the opposite wing lives Fefe’s uncle, whose lovely 16-year-old daughter Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) has captured Fefe’s heart. (more…)

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