Although roughly a decade separates writer/director Lina Wertmuller's Summer Night and Ferdinando and Carolina (just like a decade separated Swept Away and Summer Night), the two films feel like companions. Wertmuller leans into the ugly selfish arrogance of King Ferdinando, who expects everyone around him to cater to his every whim while almost pointedly ignoring their calls for him to behave more respectably. Assisi's commitment to playing Ferdinando's unlikable qualities to the hilt recalls the similar exaggerated comic ferocity of Night's Signora Bolk. Through all three films, Wertmuller seems fascinated by unlikable characters, -- shifting sympathies from one to another in Swept Away, peering into an upper-class battle of wits isolated from the outside world in Summer Night, and here, specifically contextualizing a similar relationship within the context of the political climate they're living in.
Ferdinando and Carolina is an aggressively sexual film, starting with the erotic trysts between Ferdinando and the Princess of Medina. Although Wertmuller's version of sex is rarely explicit, in the sense that nudity is fairly minimal and there is not much focus on the act itself, there is a decadence to the way she films foreplay that permeates the tone of the movie, drawing a feminine eroticism through a masculine one (most strongly expressed during a montage near the end of the movie of Ferdinando laying out the web of women in his life). When Ferdinando and Carolina meet in his bedroom on their wedding night, there's a palpable electricity despite the characters hardly having a moment of screen time together before that moment. Their playful, honest, youthful energy in how they warm up to each other helps drive the rest of the movie, generating real chemistry between Assisi and Pession. (Wertmuller also gets in an amusing visual gag where Carolina is prepared for the evening by her sisters in a Christ-like pose.)
With this in mind, it is disappointing that Ferdinando and Carolina's political storyline is not quite as engaging as the sexual intrigue or romance. Ferdinando's servants and assistants have an agenda for his marriage to Carolina, but the headstrong and forward-thinking Carolina pushes back against their plans and Ferdinando remains as uninterested in politics as ever, whining "I want to fuck!" at a crucial meeting. The advisors arrange a complicated plot to try and turn Ferdinando and Carolina against each other, setting up an extra-marital affair for Ferdinando and then turning around and planting the idea that his wife is out to get him in his head, but it doesn't work, mostly setting up a sly comic punchline for the bookend scenes featuring the older Ferdinando (Mario Scaccia).
That said, the real thing that Ferdinando and Carolina could really use is simply more of Carolina. Wertmuller offers plenty of Ferdinando: clueless, indulgent, mean-spirited, and bitter. Carolina, the more interesting character from a historical standpoint, is only fully introduced right before her marriage to Ferdinando, and then disappears for a good chunk of the film while Ferdinando's advisors try to set him up. Carolina's intelligent and occasionally devious manipulation of Ferdinando is interesting both in terms of their character dynamic, the way Wertmuller explores women on screen, and for Pession's performance, but Wertmuller is more interested in studying Ferdinando and his weaknesses -- even when those weaknesses say something about her and the ways she may or may not have used him.
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