Divorce–Italian Style (1961): Pietro Germi Oscar-Winning Sex Comedy Starring Marcello Mastroianni

Pietro Germi’s darkly humorous, boldly wild Divorce– Italian Style (“Divorzio all’italiana”) is effective as a witty comedy, broad farce, and poignant satire. The movie, which was an international hit, changes tones as it goes along, but fulfills expectations of all of these movie formats.

This Italian comedy was extremely popular at the box-office, in large measure due to the winning performance of Marcello Matsroianni, known to the American public from his appearances in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and “81/2.”

Just consider the physical appearance of Mastroianni in this film: With cigarette planted in holder, facial tic regularly kicking in, hair slicked back, his mustache as rounded off as a society lady’s eyebrows, his eyelids perpetually at half mast.

Down at the heels baron Marcello Mastroianni, fed up with plump, fuzzy-lipped wife Daniela Rocca, is smitten by his passionate teenage cousin, Stefania Sandrelli, who resides just across the courtyard.

While divorce is an embarrassing impossibility in Sicilian society, and outright murder gets you twenty to life, crimes of “honor” garner a three-to-seven slap on the wrist and admiration from your peers. So obviously it’s time to invite Rocca’s old flame Leopoldo Trieste in for a little fresco touchup, and who knows what else? — even as Mastroianni gets out the concealed microphones and tape recorder.

Germi’s hilarious satire of Sicilian mores was a smash around the world, cementing Mastroianni’s stardom by highlighting his comedy prowess after the impact of Fellinian angst.

The movie won a Best Comedy award at the Cannes Film Fest, and an Oscar for the Original Screenplay by Germi and the legendary writing team “Age-Scarpelli” (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; Seduced and Abandoned; Mafioso), plus two other nominations, for Germi’s directing and Mastroianni’s acting.

Ironically, Mastroianni was not the first choice to play the baron.  Also ironically, reportedly after the first private showing, to film people like Visconti and Francesco Rosi, the picture didn’t get a single laugh. Some of them felt that the story was originally conceived as intense drama—but not a farce.

It’s one of the favorite films of Martin Scorsese, who is quoted as saying: “One of the richest, most beautiful black and white photography ever put on film and, sensual atmosphere, where lust and passion become almost aromatic. Very inventive, it really moves, as few films do, with a deftness and the driest, most cutting wit… It’s a film that truly haunts me. As funny as it is, the emotions that Germi was dealing with were primal, savage, and most disturbingly of all, eternal.”

Oscar Nominations: 3

Director: Pietro Germi

Actor: Marcello Mastroianni

Screenplay (Original): Ennio De Concinni, Alfredo Giannetti, Pitero Germi

Oscar Awards: 1

Screenplay (Original)

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Director Oscar was David Lean for “Lawrence of Arabia.”  Gregory Peck won Best Actor for “To Kill a Mockingbird.

For the first time, 3 of the Original Screenplay nominees were foreign language films, the other being Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad” and Ingmar Bergman’s “Through a Glass Darkly,” which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar the previous year.

Three of the five directors were nominated for an Oscar, though their films were not; the others were Frank Perry for “David and Lisa” and Arthur Penn for “The Miracle Worker.”

Mastroianni received two more Best Actor nominations, for “A Special Day,” opposite Sophia Loren, in 1977 and for “Dark Eyes.”