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Divorces and double dates

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So: The new Pope has a lot of old ideas. What better time for Divorce Italian Style (Criterion), in which a Catholic husband decides that, since the church won't let him ditch his wife, the only thing to do is kill her?

Topical commentary aside, this 1962 movie is a real find, a very funny film with a lot of style. Marcello Mastroianni plays the unhappy groom, who longs for his much younger cousin and will do anything to become a bachelor again, even including manufacturing a scandal in which his whole village mocks him as a cuckold. A year after personifying cosmopolitanism in La Dolce Vita, the actor spoofs himself, bumbling through a variety of schemes until he finds the right one - which, in an extremely clever development, involves the actor's real-life career.

Mastroianni's all over the new-release shelves this month, including the late Fellini film Intervista (Koch Lorber), in which the actor and his old co-star Anita Ekberg help the director revisit some of his career's brightest moments. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is a three-episode movie in which each story casts Mastroianni and Sophia Loren as lovers. Yesterday isn't a great film, but it's a nice opportunity to watch Marcello shift gears; one of the film's most entertaining scenes has him acting like a puppy dog while Loren does a striptease. (The scene was echoed years later in Robert Altman's Ready to Wear.)

Yesterday is the debut release from a new DVD studio called No Shame Films. A boutique label along the lines of Anchor Bay and Blue Underground, it seems to be focused on Italian films (both arthouse and exploitation fare) and cult cinema. Its other new release is Boccaccio '70, an anthology with episodes by Fellini, Vittorio De Sica (who directed Yesterday), Luchino Visconti, and Mario Monicelli.

Movie lovers who are somehow immune to Mastroianni's charms can still visit Italy this month with French leading man Alain Delon: Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse (The Eclipse) is fresh out in a splendid two-disc edition from Criterion. Also starring Monica Vitti as a woman drifting from one man to another, it's the third in an informal trilogy that includes L'Avventura and La Notte.

On a completely different note: There's a lot of steam left in this year yet, but I feel confident in giving one award early. The Best Double Feature of 2005 simply has to be Beaches (Touchstone) and Sideways (20th Century Fox). Pick a pair of young lovers you'd like to see split up, and invite them over for a night of movies; if they make it through both of these gender-specific buddy tales without biting off each other's heads debating which movie's great and which sucks, they deserve to be together. The films are fresh out in feature-bedecked editions. Sideways offers deleted scenes and a chummy commentary between leading actors Paul Giamatti (Paul, you were robbed at the Oscars!) and Thomas Haden Church. Beaches boasts a director's commentary, some bloopers and ephemera, and - oh yeah, baby - the music video for Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." Let the relationship counseling begin.

Couples who'd like to avoid divorce, Italian-style or otherwise, might prefer a different sort of double feature, so in closing let me offer you an evening in Africa: Hotel Rwanda (MGM) hits shelves in time to draw favorable comparisons with the theatrical release of The Interpreter, which bases its United Nations-set drama on the aftermath of African atrocities. Artistically, it's worthwhile mainly for a magnificent performance by Don Cheadle (Don, you were robbed at the - wait a minute). Aesthetic considerations aside, the movie has actually been very effective at opening American eyes to what's happening in places like the Sudan. Here's hoping many more see it on video.

To avoid despair, you might pair Rwanda with a rip-roaring, old-school adventure such as The Four Feathers (MGM). Not the underwhelming recent version, but the 1939 Zoltan Korda epic just released in a no-frills edition. This story - about a former British soldier who sets out to prove he's not a coward - has inspired quite a few films, but by most accounts this one's the best. Just don't let the combination of Feathers and Rwanda lead to debates about imperialism with any of your movie-watching pals who don't share your politics.

By John DeFore


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