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.