In Italy, you were allowed to kill your wife if she cheated on you.
In 1961 “Divorce Italian Style” directed by Pietro Germi was released in cinemas and it was a major success for the time, grossing millions of dollars worldwide and winning the Oscar for best original screenplay. The film is known as one of the best Italian movies and gained several awards at all the major festivals (BAFTA, Cannes, Golden Globe).
The story is about Ferdinando, a married man who falls in love with his cousin and vows to wed her. Since divorce was illegal at that time, Ferdinando must find a lover for his wife to kill her by committing a crime of passion. After the murder, he will be free to marry his cousin.
Maybe you are a bit confused right now about how the protagonist’s plan works. Let me explain. Crime of passion (Delitto d’onore) was an Italian law for a reduced sentence for those who killed their wife or husband, daughter, or sister to defend their honor. The penal code, therefore the Italian state, gave legal relevance to the concept of honor to punish a murderer with a much lower penalty than the minimum 21 years of imprisonment.
Therefore, according to the story, since the divorce was illegal the only way for the protagonist to dump her wife was to kill her and get a reduced sentence. It seems like a plot for a great thriller movie, but the film is indeed a comedy. The right name for it is “Comedy Italian Style” which is described by Mario Monicelli as “dealing with comic, amusing, ironic, humorous terms stories that are instead dramatic”. Seen now, the film is almost impressive, being the mirror of a patriarchal and antiquated Italy where the murder of a wife by her husband seemed almost obvious.
Over time, the film proved to be a beautiful but embarrassing litmus test of how Italy has always been behind in the feminist and emancipatory movements. To give you an insight into what happened years after the film:
- The abrogation of the crime of adultery was approved in 1968
- You could only divorce legally after 1970
- Only on 5 August 1981 the provisions on honor killing were repealed.
The film is one of the few examples of art that allows you to see the lowest peaks of Western Mediterranean society, still tremendously anchored to traditions.
Divorce Italian Style is a masterpiece that fortunately belongs to Italian and therefore European culture. In Italy, the cancel culture has not yet arrived, fortunately, I would say. Therefore we can still appreciate this film with its sublime script, and at the same time, we can consider it as an “archive find” of who we were. Italian history is shown in that film, and contrary to what the radical left is preaching in the rest of the world, we cannot afford to erase history.
Thank you for your time,