Harper’s Bazaar

ELENA FERRANTE OPENS UP ABOUT THE ‘MY BRILLIANT FRIEND’ HBO SERIES

By , 1 June 2017

Until now, author Elena Ferrante has remained quiet about her hugely popular Neapolitan series moving to television screens via HBO. However, as casting begins in Naples for the adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, the famously private author – who works under a pseudonym – has opened up about her involvement in the project.

“For now, my contribution to the set design is limited to a few notes on whether they look right,” she told The New York Times in a rare interview. “As far as the collaboration on the script, I don’t write, I don’t have the technical skills to do it, but I am reading the texts and send detailed notes. I still don’t know if they will take them into account. It is very likely that my notes will be used later on, in the writing of the final draft.”

However, she does want the young characters – including leads Lila and Elena – to be played by newcomers rather than established child actors or actresses. All four books show an unparalleled, compelling look at the complicated friendship of two women who were both born in poverty-stricken 1950s Naples.

“Child actors portray children as adults imagine children to be,” she explained. “Children who are not actors have some chance to break free of the stereotype, especially if the director is able to find the right balance between truth and fiction.”

That said, she appreciates that ultimately casting is not her decision.

“I don’t have this skill set. Sure, I’d very much like to weigh in, but I would do it cautiously and knowing that it is useless to say, ‘Lila has little or nothing to do with that body, that face, that gaze, that way of moving,’ etc,” she said. “No real person will ever match the image that I or a reader have in our minds. This is because the written word, of course, defines but by nature leaves much to reader’s imagination. The visual image instead shrinks those margins.”

Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels have sold two million copies in 39 countries worldwide. Her final book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. HBO announced news of the show – which will comprise eight episodes – in March this year, although a release date is not yet known. The series will be filmed in Italian with English subtitles.

The New York Times

Elena Ferrante on ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Moving to the Screen

I contacted the author Elena Ferrante, who chooses to remain anonymous and publish under a pseudonym, for a story I wrote for The Times about a citywide casting call for children in Naples to fill the starring roles in a mini-series based on her hit novel “My Brilliant Friend.”

Ms. Ferrante missed deadline by a good few days, but nevertheless the author had worthwhile thoughts. Below are her answers about what it’s like for a writer to have their major work adapted to the screen, to have regular kids incarnating her characters, how much she contributes to the production and whether she thinks the show will take off like “Game of Thrones.”

The first thing I’d like to know is what it feels like to have all these young kids in Naples, many from really disadvantaged sections of the city, lining up in the hopes of being Lila and Lenù? Obviously the books have had great acclaim, but I wonder what thoughts and feelings it evokes in you to actually have the works entering the lives of kids not so dissimilar to the ones you described.

For me it was a radical change. The characters, the neighborhood are all created from words, and yet they move from literature to the screen. They leave the world of readers and enter into the much more vast world of spectators, they meet people who have never read about them and people who, for social circumstances or by choice, would never read about them. It’s a process that intrigues me. The substance of the books is reworked according to other rules and other priorities, and it changes nature. The kids themselves who show up at the auditions are the first sign of this. They know little or nothing about books. They are spectators who hope to become actors, either for play or a shot at deliverance.

You’ve clearly described the characters, and the casting director, director and producers all have a clear idea of what they are looking for based on your descriptions. And they think that kids who have grown up in tough environments are best to convey the spirit of those kids. What do you think? Would you also rather have non-actors playing the roles (there is some risk there!) or would you prefer more practiced child actors?

Child actors portray children as adults imagine children to be. Children who are not actors have some chance to break free of the stereotype, especially if the director is able to find the right balance between truth and fiction.

A lot of these kids, frankly, have never heard of Elena Ferrante or the Neapolitan novels. Most of them have visions of TV stardom dancing in their heads. Are you, someone who has studiously avoided the stardom track, worried that the hysteria around the auditions could fuel the celebrity obsession so many young people now have?

They are children who take their lead from the myths of cinema, of television, definitely not those of the written word. They want to be on screen, to be center stage, to become stars, and this is not their fault — it’s the air breathed in the adult world and, as a result, in theirs. To be part of television today is one of the most powerful aspirations of the masses, and anyone, poor or well off, considers it an extraordinary opportunity. Across all the social classes, poor and rich, cultured and uncultured.

On the flip side, do you feel like this is an opportunity to introduce kids, many of them disadvantaged, to the joys of reading? I don’t mean just reading your books, but getting them interested in books in general.

Naturally, I hope that happens. But the opportunity we are talking about has little, if anything, to do with reading. Children are there to be part of show business, and that’s it. That doesn’t mean that some of them won’t discover that this all started with a book; that behind the world of show business, with its many moving parts and conspicuous cash flow, there always is, albeit in a subservient position, the evocative power of writing and reading.

What is your hope for this production as far as its impact on Naples and its image in the world, especially after the unflattering depictions in the movie and popular television show “Gomorrah”?

Cities don’t have their own energy. It derives from the density of their history, from the power of their literature and arts, of the emotional richness of human events that take place against that background. I hope that the visual storytelling will stir authentic emotions — complex and even contradictory sentiments. This is what makes us fall in love with cities.

Do you want to sign off on the children before they are officially cast? Do you want to make sure that they are true to your vision?

I don’t have this skill set. Sure, I’d very much like to weigh in, but I would do it cautiously and knowing that it is useless to say, “Lila has little or nothing to do with that body, that face, that gaze, that way of moving,” etc. No real person will ever match the image that I or a reader have in our minds. This is because the written word, of course, defines but by nature leaves much to reader’s imagination. The visual image instead shrinks those margins. It is destined to always leave out something that the words inspire — something that always matters.

What has your involvement been with the production? The director and producers told me you send notes on the script, and have helped them design the set out near Caserta. What do you want the set to look like?

The neighborhood is a composite of different places in Naples that I know well. That’s always the case when I write, both with people or things. I don’t know what will happen on the screen. For now, my contribution to the set design is limited to a few notes on whether they look right. As far as the collaboration on the script, I don’t write, I don’t have the technical skills to do it, but I am reading the texts and send detailed notes. I still don’t know if they will take them into account. It is very likely that my notes will be used later on, in the writing of the final draft.

They have also told me that you imagine the show visually as a fairy tale, that they shouldn’t be scared to go beyond the book and depict villains as monsters, etc. How faithful do you want them to be to the novels?

No, no, it is a realistic tale. It is childhood that is colored by elements of the fantastic, and surely Lila is too. As far as faithfulness to the book, I expect a faithfulness compatible with the needs of visual storytelling, which uses different means than writing to obtain the same effects.

And lastly, HBO is involved in the production. Do you hope, or maybe fear, that this becomes the next global phenomenon, Italy’s “Game of Thrones”?

Unfortunately, “My Brilliant Friend” doesn’t provide the same kind of plot points.

The New York Times

Saudi Arabia, Theresa May, Elena Ferrante: Your Friday Briefing 

Ferrante Fever has flared up in Naples, where nearly 5,000 children are vying to audition for HBO’s adaptation of “My Brilliant Friend,” the first of the four smash-hit novels by Elena Ferrante.

The open casting call has injected hysteria and hope in parts of the southern Italian city that is poor in resources but rich in characters.

Separately, our correspondent visited the nearby Villaggio Coppola, built in the 1960s with utopian ambitions. It’s now, in her words, “a sad illustration of Southern Italy’s violated beauty and neglect.”

The New York Times

A Casting Call in Naples Lets Children Dream, if for a Day

By JASON HOROWITZ
MAY 18, 2017

NAPLES, Italy — A legion of children raced up a dead-end street in Sanità, a tough Naples neighborhood dripping with laundry and suddenly brimming with the promise of stardom.

Marta Reale, 10, her smile broad, her bangs blanched, made her way to a recreation center’s doorway through the dense crowd of other children, sunlit cigarette smoke and mothers fanning themselves on the seats of scooters. Above her, more children were hanging out the window, and above them, more were crammed onto a balcony.

Then she approached the desk where she gave her name and age and got a numbered slip of paper and a parental release form. The sign above her head read, “Dream.”

This was not just any casting call, but one for “My Brilliant Friend,” an adaptation of the first of the four smash-hit Neapolitan Novels written by Elena Ferrante, whose hidden identity enthralled the literary world and whose books have sold more than a million copies.

HBO and the Italian state broadcaster RAI caught the Ferrante Fever and are producing an eight-episode mini-series inspired by that first book, introducing international viewers to the complicated relationship of two remarkably gifted girls, Lila (“that terrible, dazzling girl”) and Lenú (“I liked pleasing everyone”), as they grow up and apart in a violent, vivid Naples neighborhood in the lean postwar years.

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The New York Times

Elena Ferrante Series Coming to HBO

Variety

HBO, Rai to Adapt Elena Ferrante’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ as Drama Series

Nick Vivarelli

ROME – HBO and Italian state broadcaster Rai have teamed up on “My Brilliant Friend,” the hotly anticipated drama series based on the first of four “Neapolitan Novels” written by Italian author Elena Ferrante, whose books have legions of fervent fans around the world.

FremantleMedia-owned Wildside and Domenico Procacci’s Fandango are producing the Italian-language series. The plan is to start shooting this summer in Naples for a premiere targeted in 2018.

Italian director Saverio Costanzo (“Private,” “Hungry Hearts”) will direct. Jennifer Schuur (“Big Love,” “Hannibal”) will serve as executive producer on “My Brilliant Friend” for Wildside and Fandango. The international distributor is FremantleMedia Intl.

Costanzo told Variety that Ferrante’s sweeping saga is “very literary but also very cinematographic” and said he planned to stick as closely as possible to the storyline of the book. “The characters really leap out of the book and come alive,” he said. “That makes it easier for us to transpose this cinematographically.”

Wildside and Fandango envision the series as 32 episodes covering all four books. HBO is on board for the first eight episodes.

Though casting is still being decided, the production is expected to draw widely from the large Neapolitan talent pool.

“My Brilliant Friend” tells the story of elderly woman Elena Greco who, after her best friend Lila disappears without a trace, starts writing the story of their 60-year friendship. It begins in the 1950s in the tough streets of Naples, which undergoes transformations along with the rest of Italy as the two women’s symbiotic, though often conflicted, relationship evolves.

“Through her characters, Elena and Lila, we will witness a lifelong friendship set against the seductive social web of Naples, Italy,” said HBO Programming president Casey Bloys. “An exploration of the complicated intensity of female friendship, these ambitious stories will no doubt resonate with the HBO audience.”

The Ferrante skein marks HBO’s second high-end Italian TV series, following “The Young Pope,” directed by Paolo Sorrentino, which was also co-produced by HBO with Wildside. “Pope” aired in Italy on Sky Italia.

This time, the Italian broadcaster on “My Brilliant Friend” will be Rai. Its  hefty investment in the Ferrante adaptation marks a drastic departure from the more mainstream and largely local TV dramas that have been staples for ages on its general entertainment channels.

“This is an ambitious project that satisfies many of our public service goals,” said Rai Managing Director Antonio Campo Dall’Orto. Striving for quality and cultural value at the mammoth pubcaster represents a novelty.

Costanzo said the vivid characters that Ferrante has crafted will be compelling to a wide range of viewers.

“They are characters that each one of us can inhabit no matter what country you are from,” Costanzo said. “They are so well told, in such detail, that we can all identify with them and their desire to emancipate themselves….Elena Ferrante has managed to tell in the first person things that are very intimate, risky, that we all feel but that you need plenty of courage to admit.”

The 41-year-old director broke out internationally in 2004 with “Private,” which was set in a Palestinian home in an occupied zone. More recently he lensed the New York-set “Hungry Hearts,” co-starring Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher, an offbeat drama based on a novel about New Age diet obsessions.

Costanzo said he was approaching the Ferrante series “as if I were making a big movie. For me the difference between TV and cinema is very subtle; today’s great TV series are cinematographic.”

He added: “From our conversations, I have a sense that HBO are the right people to help us make a great show because they have great faith in the audience.”

Costanzo is currently working on the screenplays for the eight hourlong episodes with top Italian scribes Francesco Piccolo (“Human Capital”), Laura Paolucci (“Gomorrah” the TV series) and with Ferrante herself, although “Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym. He said he’s been communicating with Ferrante via email.

Last year, an investigative journalist for Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore identified Italian literary translator Anita Raja as Ferrante. Costanzo says his focus is strictly on translating Ferrante’s work to the screen.

“I am among those who are not interested who she [really is]. I am just interested in her literary world, not her human reality,” Costanzo said.

The Telegraph

My Brilliant Friend: a fleet, sleek adaptation of Ferrante’s novels – review

My Brilliant Friend
Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack in ‘My Brilliant Friend’ CREDIT: MARC BRENNER

Elena Ferrante’s extraordinary quartet of novels about the passionate, treacherous friendship between two women in post-war Naples inspires masochistic behaviour among devotees. There are tales of readers skipping mealtimes, sleep, even social arrangements in order to gobble them up. So I suspect fans will shrug off the challenge of watching April de Angelis’s adaptation, which condenses the quartet into two two-and-a-half-hour shows that can be seen either on a single day or over two consecutive evenings. (This is not the sort of project in which it is not done to see only half. You are in for the long haul or not at all.)

So does it work? Namely, how do you put on stage the borderline narcissistic, relentless mono-perspective of these novels, each one an implacably interior account by a writer called Elena of her turbulent, decades-long relationship with her former school friend Lila? You don’t, is the answer.

My Brilliant Friend
Catherine McCormack as Lila CREDIT: MARC BRENNER

Instead, de Angelis’s fleet, sleek adaptation breaks away from Elena’s omnipotent viewpoint to release all the cinematic drama seething beneath. This, in Melly Still’s noirish production, is The Sopranos by way of women’s lib, where slick-suited gangsters mingle at weddings, where communists fight with the fascists and where, amid the broiling violence and poverty, two intellectually precocious girls, Lila and Elena (known as Lenu) wrestle against both the gender expectations of their heavily circumscribed upbringing and the mythic ties of an impossible friendship in which both women are destined to fight forever against the shadow of the other.

There is something of an Italian Hedda Gabler about Catherine McCormack’s Lila, the uncontainable, self-sabotaging brilliant young girl who combines a “refusal to submit to reality” with a yearning for self annihilation. McCormack plays her with plenty of scorn and a streak of lethal nihilism – even as a seven-year-old, maliciously dropping Lenu’s favourite doll into a cellar, McCormack finds in her long-haired, bare-footed Lila a dead eyed fatalism, as though the character already knows how her story will turn out. The stench of clinical depression hangs over her like a cloud.

My Brilliant Friend
A scene from ‘My Brilliant Friend’ CREDIT: MARC BRENNER

Niamh Cusack is less obvious casting as Lenu and, for Part One at least, is the bit player in Lila’s drama. Yet as the production grows, so does her performance. Unlike the more talented Lila, Lenu becomes a novelist but struggles to combine motherhood with her career. We are told throughout that Lenu is “good” but Cusack captures the softly monstrous ego behind Lenu’s seemingly placid surfaces – a writer who stealthily steals stories from both Lila’s life and imagination and who years later has to wrestle with whether an act of self promotion is the cause of an unspeakable loss.

Still’s muscular staging, in which a pop soundtrack eloquently tracks the changing years, beautifully summons the claustrophobic heat of downtown Naples, where washing hangs from iron balconies, wives fight like alleycats over husbands and business men are knifed in broad daylight.

It’s full, too, of moments of visual flair: when Lila is beaten up – by her dad; by her husband – she sheds her dress and the men pummel the empty cloth instead. For the most part, both play and production powerfully combine a shocking intimacy with a widescreen account of post-war Italian history. They manage, too, the seemingly impossible: despite the almost unquantifiable number of hours I have now spent in the company of Lila and Lenu, I left this wanting still more.

The New York Times

Elena Ferrante’s Naples Novels to Make Their Way to TV

PARIS — The Italian director Saverio Costanzo has signed on to direct and to help write a 32-part television series based on the four Neapolitan novels by the author who publishes under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante.

The novels, published between 2012 and 2014, have developed a cult international following. They are “My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” and “The Story of the Lost Child,” and trace the lives of two friends, Elena and Lila, from their childhoods in postwar Naples to the present.

Mr. Costanzo, best known for “Private” and “Hungry Hearts” (which co-starred Adam Driver), said in a telephone interview that the biggest challenge to adapting the novels for television was how “to convey the same emotions as the books in a cinematographic way.”

He added that he was writing the script with the Italian writers Francesco Piccolo and Laura Paolucci, and that Ms. Ferrante was also expected to contribute to the screenplay. (He expects to communicate with the author via email.)

The series will be filmed in Italy in Italian. The first season will cover the first book, with eight episodes of 50 minutes each. Filming is expected to begin in Naples this year and the first season is expected to air in the fall of 2018.

A spokeswoman for Wildside, an Italian producer making the series with Fandango, confirmed that talks were in the final stages with a major American producer, as well as with the RAI state broadcaster. Wildside also co-produced Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Young Pope,” starring Jude Law as the first American pope, a coproduction with HBO, Canal+ and Sky.

Last fall, an Italian investigative journalist said financial records indicated that the Italian literary translator Anita Raja was behind Ms. Ferrante’s books, prompting an international outcry among the novelist’s protective fans. Ms. Raja has previously denied she was the author.

Mr. Costanzo said he wasn’t interested in the author’s true identity. “It’s her literary reality that counts,” he said. “I’m one of those people who don’t care who she is.”

Vulture

The Elena Ferrante TV Adaptation Has Found a Director and Release Date

By

That adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels we heard about last year is really, truly happening. Per the New York Times, Saverio Costanzo (Hungry Hearts) has signed on to direct and help write the 32-episode series, which will cover the elusive Ferrante’s four linked novels My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. The adaptation will be shot in Italy in Italian, and written by a team of Italian writers with the help of Ferrante herself, whom Costanzo plans to talk with via email. Italian producer Wildside, which also produced The Young Pope, is in talks with American and Italian broadcasters. The series is expected to air in 2018.

Jezebel

Italian Director Saverio Costanzo Will Helm the Television Adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels

Variety

Novelist Elena Ferrante Spawns Documentary ‘Ferrante Fever’, Match Factory Takes Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

The Guardian

The epic task of bringing the enigmatic Elena Ferrante’s books to life

Naples, the setting for Ferrante’s book series

Francesco Piccolo will collaborate with the pseudonymous novelist to turn her books into an Italian TV drama – but not in person

For Francesco Piccolo, being given the job of transforming one of the most exciting works of contemporary literature into a television drama is the professional challenge of a lifetime.

But the deal to dramatise the four-book series by the pseudonymous writer known as Elena Ferrante comes with a peculiar catch. To protect the closely guarded secret of Ferrante’s true identity, the award-winning novelist and screenwriter will have to collaborate with Ferrante, who retains some creative control over the project, entirely by email.

“She will not literally write the script but she will read – I believe – everything. Every single draft, every single scene. She will go through it and by email she will express her thoughts, suggestions, advice,” said Maurizio Dell’Orso, who handles television rights for Ferrante’s publisher, Edizioni E/O. “She is not the kind of person who says: ‘I wrote it, now you go do the rest.’”

Asked whether Ferrante – whose first book in the series is called My Brilliant Friend – might widen the circle of people who know her identity in order to more freely collaborate with the writers and director who will be reworking thousands of pages of her text, the answer was decisive: no. All communication, including with Piccolo, a famous novelist in his own right, will likely pass through her editors Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola, as it always has.

“It will not be very easy, probably,” said an official at Fandango, the Italian production house that is co-producing the series with Wildside, before quickly adding: “The books are so good, maybe it doesn’t matter.”

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Mellville House

February 12, 2016

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels to be adapted for TV

by

naplesGood news for all of those afflicted with the most contagious infection around, Ferrante Fever: Elena Ferrante’sNeapolitan Series is being adapted into an eight-part Italian TV drama.

Benedicte Page at The Booksellerreports that the Italian TV and film production companies Wildside and Fandango will co-create and co-produce the series. Further assistance will come from the mysterious author herself who, according to The Bookseller, has been “involved throughout the project.”

Domenico Procacci, the CEO of Fantango, said of the project:

It has been two years now since Fandango began working on My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and we’ve seen the potential of this project grow day by day. I’m confident that together with Wildside we can realize something great, very respectful of Ferrante’s work and our Italian culture and, at the same time, with real international appeal.

Brian Moylan at The Guardian’s TV and radio blog offered some insight into how the production would work:

Each of her four novels will be adapted into an eight-episode season, for 32 episodes in total. There is no news yet on when and where the series will air and Wildside is still looking for international co-production partners. It’s using a model that is increasingly popular in the television industry: producers and networks from different countries come together to finance and distribute a program.

Two questions remain: which estimable production companies will step up and bring the series to English and American fans, and is Ann Goldstein available for the subtitles?

 

Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.

Indiewire

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan Novels’ Being Made Into TV Series

By Alice Thorpe | Women and Hollywoodfebbraio 10, 2016 at 11:00AM

Good news for the many admirers of Italian author Elena Ferrante’s so-called ‘Neapolitan Novels.’ The four-part book series, which has recently become a hit with U.S. readers, is set to be adapted for television in a co-production from FremantleMedia’s Wildside (Italy’s leading TV production company) and Fandango Productions.

The series follows close friends Elena and Raffaella, who grow up together during the 1950s in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. This coming-of-age tale — which ultimately spans two decades of the women’s lives — sees them struggle against the stifling atmosphere of their home lives with their working-class families and explores, among other themes, the changing place of women in society and the history of the feminist movement.

The quartet’s sprawling nature makes it the ideal candidate for adaptation to the small screen. Four eight-part series are planned — one for each installment. Ferrante herself is involved in the project’s development which, according to Fandango productions CEO Domenico Procacci, has been underway at the company for some two years already. Lorenzo Mieli, managing director of Fandango’s new production partner, commented that Wildside were “very privileged to be working closely with the superbly talented Ferrante and Fandango productions to bring this rich, gripping and highly-addictive collection of novels to life.”

Ansa

Neapolitan Novels to become TV series

(ANSA) – Rome, February 10 – Elena Ferrante’s internationally acclaimed Neapolitan Novels will be adapted into a television series for the international market co-produced by Italian production companies Fandango and Wildside.
The idea is for each of the novels to be adapted into an eight-part series, for a reported 32 episodes over four seasons.
The last of the four, titled The Story of the Lost Child, was on the The New York Times list of top 10 novels of 2015.
Ferrante – a pseudonym for a writer who has never revealed her identity – is reportedly co-writing the script along with Italian author Francesco Piccolo.
The books tell about the lifelong friendship between two girls from a poor, tough Naples neighborhood where girls are not supposed to aspire to an education.
The story begins in the 1950s and evolves across six decades as one of the two heroines, named Elena, overcomes the odds, gets a university degree, becomes a writer and moves to Florence while Lila drops out of school, marries an abusive man at 16, and never leaves the old neighborhood.
Their saga is an intertwining counterpoint between their two natures, with Elena struggling to overcome her humble roots and come into her own as an intellectual in a male-dominated world while Lila carries on a battle of her own while never stepping outside the confines of the crime-ridden, corrupt and tight-knit enclave they both call home.
In spite of having apparently emancipated herself from the old neighborhood and its crooked, conniving ways, Elena can never entirely detach herself and needs Lila’s mirroring gaze and intellect to give her the vital affirmation she needs.
Ferrante’s four-part novel explores the pair’s complex relationship from childhood to old age, against the changing backdrop of postwar Italy as it evolves into the 21st century.
The series to launch in the fall will reportedly air on HBO in the United States, on Sky TV in Italy, Germany, and the UK, and on Canal+ in France.
Domenico Procacci’s Fandango owns the literary rights, and Wildside specializes in literary adaptations for the screen – also in its pipeline are screen versions of French author Emmanuel Carrère’s best-selling biography Limonov and of leading Italian novelist Niccolò Ammaniti’s Anna.