Among light-hearted films about Naples, two of my favorites are still Vittorio de Sica's La Baia di Napoli (1960) (English title: It Started in Naples) with Clark Gable and Sophia Loren, and Billy Wilder's 1972 film with Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills entitled Avanti. That Italian word was the title in the original English-language release of the film. It means, "forward," "go ahead," and "come in" and ran through the film every time somebody knocked on a door, which was quite often. One of the most amusing things about that delightful film was that when it was released in Italy, they had to invent another Italian title since Avanti also happens to be the name of the newspaper of the Communist party of Italy. The revised Italian title came out as the god-awful "What Happened Between My Father and your Mother?" Even a party slogan at every door-knock is better than that title.
Last night I saw an
interesting addition to the genre of light-hearted films
about Naples: Ferdinando e Carolina, directed by
Lina Wertmüller and
released in 1999. It is, in Wertmüller's words, a
"libertine comedy" about a very unfunny period in the
history of the Kingdom of Naples, the period before the
French Revolution when the young, oafish, and virile
Ferdinand IV was running around the woods hunting while
his very able wife, Caroline
of Hapsburg, was making plans to run the kingdom.
(Also see The Bourbons, Part 1.)
The story is told in a series of flashbacks running through the mind of Ferdinand on his death bed in 1825, after Napoleon had come and gone and after Carolina had died. He is tormented by the ghosts of his violent past, the liberals and Neapolitan revolutionaries he had had executed. In short, we see his youth, from fun-loving pseudo-urchin to fun-loving and vulgar young stud. It was enjoyable to watch. Like everything that Wertmuller does, Ferdinando e Carolina has that bit of Fellini and Zeffirelli about it, such that if you freeze almost any frame in the 102–minute running time, you have a frameable portrait, so perfect are the sets, costumes and choreography. Wertmuller points out that the shots of the inside of what was supposed to be the Bourbon Royal Palace were actually shot in the Savoy palace in Turin —a bit of "revenge" she says.
The film featured
Sergio Assisi as Ferdinando and Gabriella Pession as
Carolina. Assisi is a still relatively little-known
actor. After the film was released, he appeared at a
book-signing in Naples with Giuseppe Campolieti, the
author of Il Re Lazzarone (roughly, the Beggar
King), a recent biography of Ferdinand. Assisi read
passages from the book in Neapolitan dialect. That was
one of the charms of the film, too—much of it was in the
language of Naples, the only
language that the king ever really felt comfortable
speaking. I don't know anything about Gabriella Pession
except that she either spoke —or was dubbed (more
likely)— with a thick German accent, all in keeping with
Queen Caroline's Austrian origins.