Just so you know, divorce is now permitted in Italy. But in 1962, the only way you could get a divorce was by... well, "Divorce Italian Style," a ka bumping off your adulterous spouse. This delightfully warped black comedy focuses on that very idea -- a disgruntled husband who goes to absurd lengths to get a "divorce."
Ferdinando Cefalú (Marcello Mastroianni) is a middle-aged Sicialian noble who is displeased with his life, and his adoring wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). In true midlife-crisis fashion, he falls for his angelic-looking cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), but he can't get a divorce. Divorce isn't allowed in Italy at this time, so Ferdinando is left stewing over his problems, fantasizing about murdering Rosalia.
But then he hears about an odd law: if an adulterous spouse is caught in flagrante, then the wronged spouse can kill the adulterer and get off with a light prison sentence. So Ferdinando starts desperately searching for a potential lover for Rosalia, but she remains faithful. Then he locates an ex-boyfriend of hers, hoping to rekindle the old flame. But nothing goes quite according to plan...
Yes, it's a bit sick. But in such a funny way that it really doesn't offend. At a certain point it becomes less about Ferdinando trying to murder his wife, as it is an increasingly overwrought attempt to get her to commit adultery. Not to mention a spoof on traditional views on "family honor," where it is more shocking to NOT kill your adulterous spouse than it is to do so.
Ferdinando carefully straddles the line between being slime and being a funny character -- his surreal murder fantasies are hilarious, such as when he shoves Rosalia into a vat of soap. And in keeping with the spoof atmosphere, the romance is overemotional, the fighting is overwrought, and the contrived adultery/murder scheme is absurd. The final scene is the final tragicomic flourish, hinting at future disaster that Ferdinando deserves.
Pietro Germi at first seems to be making an offensive movie, but viewing it with a sense of humor shows that he's poking fun, and making wry social observations. He was also not above plugging Mastroianni's other movies -- one scene has a priest denouncing "La Dolce Vita," followed by crowds rushing to see it. Ferdinando's future brother-in-law ogles the beautiful Anita Eckberg, then hastily tells his fiancee that Eckberg is pretty, but "she has no soul."
The immortal Mastroianni injects just enough humanity into Ferdinando to keep us from loathing him -- in the middle of a midlife crisis, he seems increasingly confused as the movie goes on. Daniela Rocca sits on the fence between being devoted and annoying, while Sandrelli plays a girl who acts like an angel, but definitely isn't.
Thankfully Italian spouses no longer have to bump each other off to get a "divorce," but "Divorce Italian Style" remains a classic black comedy/social satire.