Pietro Germi’s black comedy on Sicilian gender norms stars Marcello Mastroianni as a minor noble whose family has fallen on hard times but who still engenders local respect in his noble poverty. Unfortunately for him, he’s married to a sex-starved but unattractive woman (Daniela Rocca) who bores him. All Rocca wants is some attention and love from her husband. But he’s turned his attention to his young cousin just returned from her convent education (Stefania Sandrelli). He can’t divorce his wife. It’s Italy after all. So instead he connives a way to set her up with an old flame so that they can get together and then he can shoot them when they cheat on him. The plot doesn’t exactly go according to plan at first, but eventually he succeeds. But instead of shooting them on sight, they run away. The townspeople are disgusted with Mastroianni because he hasn’t killed them. Pride and honor are what matters here, shoot a woman and a lover, well, who cares. It takes the wife of the man who ran away with Rocca to set things in motion. He succeeds in winning his honor back, even if he has to serve some jail time for his crime. But will his hot young new wife stay loyal to him after his release? Well, it’s 1961 and he’s a man of 1946 and the evidence suggests pretty strongly the answer is no.
In a land that today excuses Silvio Belusconi’s actions that include placing nude models in high government positions, where women are too often still classified as saints or whores, where far too many men see women as trophies to conquer, and where the larger mores of society approve of these things (because of course they exist everywhere in one form or another but not every nation holds onto them as central to life), this satire almost rang too true to me.
A very nice touch was using a showing of La Dolce Vita as a device to corrupt the town and show just how corrupted everyone really wants to be and that it doesn’t take much to do both.