Ferrante Fever

 

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An appreciation of a best-selling author which could have been more informative about her work to its advantage.

 
Ferrante Fever

  

I am one of those who has never read a novel by Elena Ferrante but who has even so become aware of her two claims to fame, first as the author of The Neapolitan Novels, a quartet of world-wide best sellers, and secondly as a celebrated writer who has chosen to conceal her identity. Her novels, written in Italian, have   women as their central figures. Indeed, comments heard in this documentary by Giacomo Durzi stress the extent to which her writing goes deep into female experience being both unafraid of reaching uncomfortable places and clear-eyed about mothers and daughters. In all of this we are told that she seems to be speaking not "to you" but "of you". This inevitably suggests a particular appeal to women readers even though writers acclaiming her here include Jonathan Franzen, Roberto Saviano and Nicola Lagioia and, while this also encourages one to assume that Elena Ferrante is indeed a woman, her anonymity has nevertheless led to the theory that she could in reality be a man. 

 

Ferrante Fever quotes from Ferrante's 2003 publication Fragments in which she offered personal reflections and selected letters while still hiding her identity. The film accepts her view that art should exist in its own right divorced from questions about the artist. Consequently, the film makes no attempt to investigate who Ferrante actually is and concentrates instead on her novels. Although there are brief interludes involving animation and stylised images, this approach makes Ferrante Fever first and foremost a  film of talking heads, among them Ferrante's American translator Ann Goldstein and two directors, Mario Martone and Roberto Faienza, who made films of her first and second novels respectively. The enthusiasm of the various interviewees for Ferrante's work comes over strongly and Martone offers a bonus in being able to cite comments direct from Ferrante suggesting minor changes to his screenplay for L'Amore Molesto (1995), these being detailed and precise.

 

What we are given here makes for an interesting film but one of greater benefit to those already familiar with the novels. The Neapolitan Quartet is mentioned at the outset but the fact that four other novels preceded it emerges only gradually and without any real indication of how they fared with the public before 2012's launch of the quartet with My Brilliant Friend. We do gather that the Italian literary establishment has to some extent treated her with reserve, an attitude which could be born of envy of her success, of disapproval of her refusal to play the promotion game expected of authors or, indeed, of both. But only one paragraph from a novel is quoted so her writing style, seemingly so appealing to so many yet praised here by cognoscenti (Franzen claims that she has a great voice), is not conveyed clearly. Similarly, discussion of the quartet's central characters although interesting in itself is not backed up by much plot description. In consequence, those approaching Ferrante Fever to learn about this unique literary phenomenon will find the film less distinct in its information than they would wish. All the same, it's good to have a documentary about a contemporary writer, a genre all too rare in documentaries for the cinema.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Jonathan Franzen, Roberto Saviano, Nicola Lagioia, Elizabeth Strout, Mario Martone, Roberto Faienza, Ann Goldstein, Sarah McNally, Francesca Marciano, Giulia Zagrebelsky and the voice of Anna Bonaiuto.

 

Dir Giacomo Durzi, Pro Roberto Lombardi, Giorgio Magliulo and Yoni Ronn, Screenplay Laura Buffoni and Giacomo Durzi, Ph Giuseppe Gallo, Ed Paola Freddi and Marko Platania, Music Andrea Bergescio, Giorgio Ferrero, Valentina Gaia and Rodolfo Mongitore.

 

Mal├Ča/Rai Cinema/QMI/Sky Arte-Modern Films.
74 mins. Italy/France. 2017. Rel: 17 May 2019. No Cert.