« | Home | »

Divorzio all’italiana

Tags: | |

I wonder if Silvio Berlusconi, for his next coup of reactionary lawmaking, is considering a repeal of the 1971 legalisation of divorce. Before 1971, marriage in Italy really was more or less a case of till death did them part, though not many people resorted to the methods of Marcello Mastroianni’s character in Pietro Germi’s 1961 black comedy, Divorzio all’italiana.

Ferdinando Cefalù is a Sicilian aristrocrat in his late thirties who lives with his parents, his wife (Rosalina), his sister and a sexually harassed teenage servant in a crumbling palace in the fictional town of Agramonte, near Catania. At night, Ferdinando creeps (in every sense of the word) from the marital bed to spy on his sleeping teenage cousin from the bathroom window. So far, so Berlusconi. If the movie begins as a fairly nasty misogynist sex comedy, however, with Ferdinando also fantasising about murdering Rosalina in such imaginative ways as stabbing her in the back and bundling her into a vast cauldron in which she’s making soap, it soon turns into something much stranger.

When Rosalina’s old lover, Carmelo Patanè, presumed dead in the war, returns to the town and offers to restore the frescoes in the Cefalù palace, Ferdinando decides to get rid of his wife for real by fixing her up with Carmelo and then shooting them both in a staged crime of passion, so he’ll be free to marry his underage cousin. It’s an insane project, and gets steadily more insane as Ferdinando gets hold of a hi-tech bugging device to eavesdrop on the lovers, at which point I started to wonder – perhaps a little hopefully – if the movie wasn’t somehow a veiled satire on Cold War political paranoia.

Ferdinando thinks his opportunity has come when the entire town, apart from Rosalina and Carmelo, piles into the cinema to watch La dolce vita. No one seems to notice that the film stars their local baron, but that’s probably because they’re all too distracted by Anita Ekberg and her breasts. It’s an extraordinary scene, in which the male gaze is turned in on itself in more ways than one. As the camera scans across the faces of the passively staring audience, the men look like caricatures, gawping personifications of scopophilia – until you compare them with the crowd watching while Fellini filmed Ekberg cavorting in the Trevi Fountain. Then you realise they just look like men. What a sorry lot we are. Here’s hoping Veronica Lario fleeces the prime minister for every centesimo she can get.

The worst of it is that all the fuss about Berlusconi’s disintegrating marriage is keeping actual news off the front pages: for example, that the Senate has just approved a law requiring doctors to report illegal immigrants to the authorities.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement