The Guardian: New Elena Ferrante-inspired street art to be unveiled in Naples

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Sophia Seymour – Dec 12, 2018

Elena Ferrante fever spread across the globe with the release of the author’s Neapolitan novels, but it took the success of the acclaimed TV adaptation, My Brilliant Friend, for the hype to come full circle back to Rione Luzzatti, the neighbourhood east of the city centre where the bildungsroman unfurls.

As the eight-episode series, which ended last night, gripped viewers, locals felt compelled to harness the attention Ferrante has brought to their once-disregarded corner of Naples. In keeping with the Neapolitan tradition of street art, a mural is to grace the walls of the neighbourhood’s fascist-era public library, Biblioteca Andreoli, behind the central station.

The mural is to be completed this week by Eduardo Castaldo, the photographer for the HBO and Rai Fiction adaptation. Castaldo uses blown-up cutouts of the photographs he took of the show’s stars on set, spliced into sections and pasted onto shadowy silhouettes on the library walls. Flanking the entrance to the library and below a painted “Biblioteca Popolare” sign, figures of the book’s two main characters, friends Lila Cerullo and Lenù Greco, their elementary school teacher, Maestra Oliviero, and the librarian, Maestro Ferraro, will decorate the otherwise austere building.

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The Guardian: My Brilliant Friend review – a beautiful adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s tale

This authentic take on the first Neapolitan novel is the most honest and vivid portrait of the lives of young girls ever brought to TV

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Rebecca Nicholson – Nov 19, 2018

Adapting much-loved books for the screen is risky and can be fraught, especially if a series has been as adored as Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. The characters live so vividly in readers’ minds that their TV forms may only be able to exist on a sliding scale of disappointment.

Thankfully, Saverio Costanza’s take on the first instalment, 2012’s My Brilliant Friend (Sky Atlantic), comes with an understated, solid confidence that suits its source material perfectly. Ferrante, whoever she may be, is credited as one of four writers on the show, so it is little wonder that it feels authentic, but this is a gorgeous TV show on its own merits.

It is unlikely that anyone who read the novels would expect a boisterous affair, but, even so, the first episode (of eight) unravels at a notably unhurried pace. This languid approach may be a turn-off for some, but it has a steady-handed charm. By the end of the first hour, we know Lenù and Lila as if we are close friends. Perhaps more perilous than trampling over beloved stories is relying on child actors to carry them, as is necessary in episode one, but Elisa del Genio, as Lenù, and Ludovica Nasti, as Lila, are remarkable. As fights and disagreements rise and fall around the girls, Costanza’s direction lingers on their expressive faces; the arduous casting process, which reportedly took months, was clearly worth it.

For those who have not read Ferrante’s novels – nobody should have trouble getting into the TV series, regardless of whether they have or not – the story begins when Elena (Lenù), at this point in her 60s, receives a phone call from the son of her childhood friend Lila. Lila is missing; she has taken her clothes with her and has cut up family photographs. Elena’s response is muted and eventually cold, teasing of a long and complicated past. “Learn to live on your own,” she advises him, suggesting she is unlikely to win an award for compassion any time soon: “And don’t call me again, either.”

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The Guardian: ‘I fell in love with Lila’: on the set of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend

The reclusive author’s Neapolitan novels have been devoured by millions. Now the first one is about to hit TV screens in an ambitious adaptation made on location in Naples

On The Guardian

Kathryn Bromwich – Nov 11, 2018

Earlier this year, a Brazilian tourist was wandering around Ischia, a picturesque volcanic island just off the coast of Naples in southern Italy. She was retracing the steps of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, the characters at the centre of the four-book series by Elena Ferrante that begins with My Brilliant Friend. Perhaps she was thinking of the scenes in the first novel, where Elena leaves home for a few blissful weeks of reading and swimming; perhaps of the more dramatic romantic entanglements that happen on the island in the second volume.

One evening, the tourist stopped at a local restaurant for dinner, and, to her surprise, found Elena Greco eating there, along with railroad worker and poet Donato Sarratore and his family. Or, at least, the actors playing these roles in the forthcoming television adaptation of the first novel. “It was very funny – she recognised every one of them,” says Saverio Costanzo, director of the series. “She told us that many, many people from South America are going around Naples to see places from Elena Ferrante.” In the past few years, thousands of tourists have visited the area because of the book series, a double bildungsroman about a pair of friends which spans the decades between their 50s childhood and the present day. A thriving industry has sprung up to meet demand: Ferrante tours ranging from half a day to six days take people around the book’s locations, promising an authentic Neapolitan experience.

But today the Naples that so ignited readers’ imaginations lies a little further afield. A 45-minute drive from the city, hidden down an unassuming but well guarded driveway, is a set of tall, dusky apartment blocks. In these streets, drying washing hangs from the balconies, and street vendors sell milk bottles, mismatched pots and pans, and ragged-looking clothes. The location is a former glass factory, disused since the 80s, which over the past year has been meticulously transformed into the “rione”, or neighbourhood, that provides the main setting for Ferrante’s four novels.

It is June 2018 when I visit the set of the much anticipated TV series, joint produced by the companies Wildside and Fandango. Filming is in progress; we are frequently silenced to avoid interrupting scenes. Extras with dour expressions and austere period costume eye us suspiciously as they chainsmoke, looking as if they have come to life from a black-and-white postwar film. Here are the familiar sights from the books: the tunnel under which the girls pass on an ill-fated trip to the sea, the grate where they throw their dolls, the Carracci grocery store. Inside the tobacconist’s, fresh prosciutto legs have been taken out of the fridge, and are displayed alongside 50s newspapers.

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The Guardian: From Fellini to Ferrante: the cinematic vision of My Brilliant Friend

The television adaptation Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is a reminder of Italy’s strong tradition in the coming-of-age genre, from Life Is Beautiful to Cinema Paradiso

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Tobias Jones – Nov 19, 2018

The first episode of My Brilliant Friend is likely to cause both great excitement and deep anxiety. Excitement because Ferrante is a writer with an almost evangelical following. Her quartet of “Neapolitan novels” have sold close to a million copies in the UK, and 1.8m in Italy. When readers finish one book, they tend to devour all four, mesmerised by the taut depiction of a poor suburb and its characters over the course of many decades. But that invented world of a few families living cheek-by-jowl in postwar Italy is both exotically foreign and yet – with its universal themes of poverty, violence, alliances and aspiration – astonishingly familiar. The anxiety arises because the adaptation might erase not only how we’ve imagined the characters, but also their world.

Elisabetta Salvini, a feminist historian at the University of Parma, says that Ferrante “knows how to use perfectly the history of our country, weaving it into the depth and complexity of her characters.” For Adalgisa Giorgio, herself Neapolitan and a senior lecturer in Italian studies at the University of Bath, the friendship depicted in the books “is full of conflict and confrontation, but it’s the basis of their resistance to a world which tries to erase them.”

Yet, while Ferrante has become a subject of university study in the UK, there’s more reticence, even snootiness, about her in Italian academic circles. Here, realist plots are often less valued than experimental, highbrow works and some intellectuals sense something soap opera-ish about Ferrante. One Italian literary critic, Stefano Jossa, wrote a polemic recently under the provocative headline: “Ferrante shouldn’t be studied at university”. If she’s going to be studied, he wrote, it should be to analyse and deconstruct the mythography, not to add to it.

So for all those reasons there’s huge anticipation surrounding this adaptation. Ferrante herself was a script adviser and the director Saverio Costanzo said recently that working with the famous recluse was like “working with a ghost”. But Costanzo probably felt he was working with many other ghosts beyond Ferrante, because the artistic ancestors of this production are the country’s great neorealist directors: De Sica, Visconti, Rossellini and Fellini. Like them, Costanzo has cast many non-professional actors and sought to portray the rawness of the postwar period with all its destitution and opportunities, with its clash of ancient and modern. There are dusty fields, abandoned buildings, stray dogs, goatherds and only one or two cars. The Neapolitan dialect is so thick that there are subtitles even for Italians.

But those neorealist directors were invariably portraying and interpreting their own present, whereas this adaptation is a costume drama. The set was built from scratch and it appears strangely spacious and – a word one would never normally associate with Naples – neat. The city is noisy, frenetic, creative and soiled, so the bare set is unsettling, but that was precisely Costanzo’s intention: “A reconstructed set,” he told me, “creates disorientation in the spectator.”

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The Guardian: Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend: how does the show compare to the books?

Can director Saverio Costanzo and a cast of non-professional actors do justice to Ferrante’s radical vision of postwar Naples?

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Lisa Allardice – Nov 17, 2018

“Lila is overdoing it as usual,” Elena Greco begins her story, both in Elena Ferrante’s much-loved novel My Brilliant Friend and in a feverishly anticipated TV adaptation. “We’ll see who wins this time.” And thus a narrative of 50 years of friendship and rivalry opens, transporting us back to the slum Naples district of their postwar childhood.

The first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, My Brilliant Friend is a breathless, breathtaking love story – but not between a hero and heroine. Above all, the novels are a lingering, obsessive exercise in bringing two young woman into being. While literature is hardly short of female characters scorched on to the page by the male gaze, what makes this book so unusual is that the looking is done by another girl: and in the adaptation the emphasis is all on looking – we watch the girls watching the adult world around them. In the many passages dedicated to noticing that moment when a girl becomes a beautiful woman, Elena’s rapt description of her friend is as charged as that of any lover: “She had become shapely. Her high forehead, her large eyes that she could suddenly narrow, her small nose, her cheekbones, her lips and ears that were looking for a new orchestration and seemed close to finding it.” The reader, like everyone in the neighbourhood, can’t help but fall in love with Lila.

Elena and Lila (Lenù and Lina – even their nicknames are echoes of each other) are two sides of our romanticised selves, constantly shifting in their fragility and fearlessness. And while we know that life is giving Elena chances (all too rare given her background), that her diligence and determination will be rewarded, her insecurities overcome, it is still Lila who we want to be. (Who does not long to be bolder, brainier, beautiful and a little bit bad – brilliant, in short?) But the characters also show us our worst selves: here is true friendship, passionate, sometimes painful and often shamefully ungenerous. They might spend hours lost in Little Women, but this is girlhood as we remember it.

While Ferrante is still an enigma, preferring to remain anonymous, her fiction has become a global phenomenon, counting Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton among its largely, but not exclusively, female devotees (New Yorker critic James Wood and novelist Jonathan Franzen were early champions): her novels have sold in their millions and fans make pilgrimages to the Naples streets on which they are set. So it is a brave and lucky man, Saverio Costanzo who has been chosen to direct and help adapt the novels for the screen.

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