Lina Wertmüller’s 1800’s comedy takes a look at Politics, Power, Sex, and Gender roles in Europe’s past with a camera pointed squarely at our modern society.
Director: Lina Wertmüller/Italian/1999
Street Date: September 19, 2017/Kino Lorber
Director Lina Wertmüller is being celebrated with a multi-film blu-ray release from Kino Lorber and she is definitely a director that needs to be seen by a worldwide audience. With her comedic spoof Ferdinando and Carolina, Wertmüller dives into the 18th century European politic to dissect a truly modern take on power, with a nod to the ways in which a woman must struggle against a stacked system, where sex is the “great equalizer” (Simon Abrams) that can yield great power, or crush one’s spirit entirely.
Sergio Assisi is King Ferdinando di Borbone of Naples, a man on his deathbed who is remembering moments of his life. In his memory, he was just an ornery teen, born of royalty, but who felt at home with the commoners. When he is named King by his father, who has gone to Spain to ascend to the throne there, Ferdinando uses his position of power to pursue the wife of an ambassador, who has been sent to England to allow Ferdinando to pursue his sexual appetite for this woman, and do everything to thwart his father’s desire that he be married to a daughter of the d’Asburgo family of Austria which he believes will consolidate power for their kingdom, and bring in an era of peace.
Ferdinando is also a deeply superstitious man, often given to warding off the “evil eye” with horned charms. He is deathly afraid of smallpox and sees his arranged nuptials as cursed when the first two d’Asburgo daughters he was arranged with in succession both died of catching smallpox. Following their deaths, his father arranges for him to marry Carolina d’ Asburgo (Gabriella Passion). Believed to be tricked into marriage following signing the papers declaring the union himself (after being told to read everything he signs, before haphazardly scribbling his name without heeding the advice), Ferdinando finds that he might have much in common with this girl and he is drawn to her and the ironic freedom he finds with her sexually in matrimony that he thought he had in his previous conquests.
Carolina has been raised by a mother who assumed power following the death of her husband. An ugly and fat woman, Empress d’Asburgo is far more driven for power than most of the men across Europe that have it. She sews into her daughters the idea that they will sacrifice themselves to marrying for position instead of love, to ensure their family has that power. Carolina seems to understand this more than Ferdinando as she seeks to bear him a son which would give her a seat at the table making decisions and doing what he has failed to do despite his position of privilege as a male, and King: rule. Now, he finds himself a slave to the sexual pursuit of her that he used to find freedom in, as both are victims of the political gamesmanship being perpetrated by their parents in which they are just pawns.
Wertmüller uses the absurdity of these two characters to get her jabs in on modern society. The notion that the d’Asburgo daughters are happier to contract smallpox and die than marry the “big-nosed” ugly king says plenty about women who have been subjugated under decisions they are expected to make for some greater good at the expense of their own personal freedom. While Wertmüller brings a female perspective through her direction, she is able to deftly place this tale into a narrative from the male-centered point of view of Ferdinando. Her camera’s gaze still gives objectifying views of the female form, though from her camera’s perspective, it clearly demonstrates all that is wrong with this tale when being told from the male protagonist’s view. In effect, her camera is his gaze, and what it shows us is is a damning reflection, not of the 1800’s, but now.
The Blu-ray release of Ferdinando and Carolina comes with an essay from film critic Simon Abrams, called “Sex and Treachery: Ferdinando and Carolina“. It also contains both Italian trailers, along with the same trailers dubbed into English, to several of Wertmüller’s other films being released by Kino Lorber. This also includes one to the documentary on Wertmüller entitled Behind the White Glasses, which would serve as a good primer on the famed director, especially for American audiences who are just being introduced to her storied work.
This Blu-ray release is presented in color, and in Italian with optional English subtitles. It is formatted in 1.85:1, 1920x1080p, and in 2.0 stereo.
The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-Ray’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.