Divorzio all’italiana (Divorce Italian style)


The winner of the Best Original Screenplay Academy award in 1962, this comedy written and directed by Pietro Germi was actually based on a very tragic book by Giovanni Arpino. Central to both works is the actual Italian law pertaining the so-called delitto d’onore, or honor killing. This absurdly archaic code referred to a man catching his wife in bed with a lover, killing one or both on the spot and be condemned to an extremely light punishment “because the murder happened to defend the honor of marriage”. The law was abrogated only in 1981, but before that it was very frequently invoked, especially in Sicily. The reason for this was not a particular tendence to infidelity among the women living on the southern island, but the same described in the film: since divorce was not legal in Italy until 1974, killing the spouse was the most practical way to start a new official relation. In the case of Divorzio all’italiana, the protagonist is a Sicilian nobleman – played by Marcello Mastroianni – constantly daydreaming of his wife’s demise, and finally pushed into action by the come-ons of his own cousin, a sixteen-years old beauty.

What makes the story fun is the constant subversion of the protagonist’s expectations. His schemes to put his wife in bed with another man fail repeatedly; the woman eventually elopes with her lover, so he can’t catch them in flagrante delicto; the wife of the lover kills him first disrupting Mastroianni’s plan… When he finally manages to marry his cousin, she is revealed to be a cheater herself, and so on. Divorzio all’italiana was not only a smashing success, but it also set the bar for the whole genre of commedia all’italiana, or Italian comedy – movies satirizing the vices and behaviors of Italian people, often focusing on the perceived quirks of the different regions of the country.