Criterion Sunday 286: Divorzio all’italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961)

Marcello Mastroianni’s married man, a rakish Sicilian noble fallen on hard times, Baron Fernando, falls for his beautiful teenage cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) and tries to figure out ways he can get out of his marriage, thanks to Italy’s strict laws about divorce. If the premise of this film is rather leering and lascivious, one suspects it was taken much the same way in Italy of 1960; this, after all, is a film that attempts to poke fun at the leering, lascivious ways of older gentlemen like Fernando (his dad, too, is much the same with the family’s maid). Mastroianni is of course excellent in the kind of role he was always a natural fit for, what with his charm and good looks, but that doesn’t excuse his character, who gets increasingly desperate and violent in his plotting to divorce his wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca, who is also clearly a very beautiful woman and not much older than Sandrelli, even if the filmmakers have given her a unibrow and some unflattering upper lip hair). Ferdinando remains the focus throughout, along with his (at times) cartoonishly silly plans, and neither Angela nor Rosalia feel fully fleshed out as characters, but the film maintains a light and humorous tone to all the goings-on, with some beautiful black-and-white photography of Sicily.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Pietro Germi; Writers Ennio De Concini, Germi and Alfredo Giannetti (based on the novel Un delitto d’onore “Honour Killing” by Giovanni Arpino); Cinematographers Carlo Di Palma and Leonida Barboni; Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Stefania Sandrelli, Daniela Rocca, Leopoldo Trieste; Length 108 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 12 January 2020.

Marriage Story (2019)

This new Noah Baumbach film has just been released on Netflix, so currently everyone seems to have an opinion about it. Why not let me add mine to the mix, for what very little it is worth at this point.


Despite being primed to dislike this film that appears to be about wealthy white people falling out of love — not to mention some kind of pointed self-fiction dealing with the director and his first marriage — I did really like this film, which in some of its textures and characters reminds me of last year’s Private Life (another Netflix film, albeit one that didn’t even get any cinema screenings over here sadly). This is about Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who have been married ten years but find themselves drawn apart, as much because they want different things than anything they particularly dislike about the other person — though of course those all come out. It’s a film that’s dealing with divorce as an idea, working through all those feelings but working them out in public on film. I was expecting more of a character assassination of the wife, but she comes across to me as pretty reasonable, whereas it’s Driver’s character who can be the real ass most of the time. There are laughs and there’s tension, but most of all there’s really excellent acting that supports this central couple (my confession is I’ve never been a huge fan of either Driver or Johansson), most notably Alan Alda and Laura Dern as the competing divorce lawyers, though it’s nice to see Julie Hagerty on screen again.

Marriage Story film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Noah Baumbach; Cinematographer Robbie Ryan; Starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty; Length 136 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Saturday 23 November 2019.

גט – המשפט של ויויאן אמסלם‎ Gett: Ha’mishpat Shel Vivian Amsalem (Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, 2014)

There’s a powerful intensity to the presentation of this film, which is essentially a courtroom drama. Partly that comes from the fact that it is pretty much confined to a single room, where wife Viviane (co-writer/director Ronit Elkabetz) is attempting to obtain a divorce agreement (or gett) from her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian). The room has a bland, clean starkness, and there are only a few camera set-ups possible to capture the two benches where Viviane and Elisha sit with their respective counsels, and the three judges who sit listening to their arguments. But a lot of the intensity is to do with the mismatch between the unchanging solemnity of this bureaucratic setting and the absurdity of Viviane’s situation, which unfolds over five years, with frequent titles indicating the passage of months between appearances. It’s not just that divorce seems normalised to modern Western viewers, it’s that the religious demands of the Israeli society within which the Amsalems live place all the burden onto the wife, with the husband largely unpunished for making little effort to mount a defence. There are no grandstanding speeches (when Viviane’s lawyer or she herself attempt anything of this nature, they are quickly shut down by the stern men who sit in judgement), it just quietly goes about documenting the manifest absurdities of the process, meanwhile hinting at details of the couple’s life together and the reasons for her actions.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem film posterCREDITS
Directors/Writers Ronit Elkabetz רונית אלקבץ and Shlomi Elkabetz שלומי אלקבץ; Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie; Starring Ronit Elkabetz רונית אלקבץ, Simon Abkarian Սիմոն Աբգարեան; Length 115 minutes.
Seen at home (Amazon streaming), London, Sunday 3 January 2016.

Second Hand Husband (2015)

As my knowledge of popular Indian cinema is still in its infancy, my understanding from commentary I found on the internet is that this film is a Bollywood (i.e. Hindi language) debut from Punjabi director Smeep Kang, but otherwise bears the stylistic imprint of films from that part of the world (the north-west of the country and Pakistan). It stars Punjabi singer Gippy Grewal as dashing divorcee Rajbir looking to remarry the sensible lawyer Gurpreet, though the actor playing her (Tina Ahuja) almost fades into the background, since most of the comedic to-do is given over to Rajbir’s philandering boss Ajit (Dharmendra, a stalwart of both Hindi and Punjabi cinema) and his ex-wife Neha (Geeta Basra), a colourful figure who is set on Rajbir’s alimony payments. There’s little point in me trying to recount the plot, which involves all kinds of slapstick endeavours by Rajbir to set up Neha with a new husband (not to mention playing match-maker and breaker with Ajit, Ajit’s wife, the local police sergeant, and others). Even the film seems to whizz through the various possible pairings with undue haste and little attention to believability, stopping entirely at one point, as is customary, to fit in what amounts to a music video. It’s probably a stretch to have set up the almost 80-year-old Dharmendra as a charming lothario, much though he’s looking good for his age, and too many of the slapstick setpieces are a stretch even for a script this slapdash. Added to this the comedy musical cues start to get wearing over the length of the film. That said, it coasts through on the photogenic charm of its leads, making it difficult to take against it too strongly.

Second Hand Husband film poster CREDITS
Director Smeep Kang ਸਮੀਪ ਕੰਗ; Writers Kang, Shreya Srivastava ਸ਼ਰੇਆ ਸ੍ਰੀਵਾਸਤਵ and Vaibhav Suman ਵੈਭਵ ਸੁਮਨ; Cinematographer Manoj Shaw [aka Manoj Gupta मनोज गुप्ता]; Starring Gippy Grewal ਗਿੱਪੀ ਗਰੇਵਾਲ, Geeta Basra ਗੀਤਾ ਬਸਰਾ, Dharmendra धर्मेन्द्र; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Ilford, London, Thursday 16 July 2015.

奇跡 Kiseki (I Wish, 2011)

This is a short review, as again I’ve let myself get behind in my write-ups at this busy time of year…


I think it’s clear at this point that Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda likes to make films about kids and their families, like a rather more sensitive rendering of the themes of earlier Steven Spielberg movies. His Like Father, Like Son was one of my favourite films at this year’s London Film Festival, and this previous film (only released in UK cinemas earlier this year) is also a delight. Both films feature families split apart — in this case by divorce — but I Wish takes the children as its protagonists, lending it also a sense of real child-like wonder.

It takes its time to get going though. The title, and the ostensible heart of the film, come with the idea — suggested off-handedly by a child at school early on — that if you witness the moment when two bullet trains pass one another, whatever you wish for will come true. As it happens, the older of the two children in the film longs most for their parents to get back together. However, the quest that this promise — and the news that the bullet train line is being extended to where he lives — suggests doesn’t really start until after a full half of the film’s two-hour running time has elapsed. Up until that point, what Koreeda is content to sketch out is a portrait of the lives of these two children, one living with their mother in a town in the shadow of an active volcano, the other with their father, whose dream of rock stardom ensures he lives a messy and indolent life (though in a rather larger city). The two communicate regularly by phone, but even here there’s the resigned hint that the younger child knows deep-down that the older sibling’s dream of the family getting back together is a foolish hope.

This isn’t then magical realism, and though there are playful hints towards this, the first half of the film ensures we know that this tale is very much grounded in something more akin to social realism. But even within these constraints, Koreeda has found something touching without being sentimental, and heart-warming without being cloying. I can’t imagine a better film founded on such a fragile premise. It’s a corrective to the kind of overblown sap you’d get in an equivalent Hollywood production, and for that I welcome it.

I Wish film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和; Cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki 山崎裕; Starring Koki Maeda 前田航基, Oshiro Maeda 前田旺志郎; Length 128 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Monday 16 December 2013.