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FILM Italy

Ferrante Fever: In search of the secret behind the “faceless writer”


- Hitting Italian cinemas is Giacomo Durzi's documentary, which focuses on Elena Ferrante, listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential personalities in the world

Ferrante Fever: In search of the secret behind the “faceless writer”
Roberto Saviano in Ferrante Fever

The shop window of a bookstore on Prince Street, New York. A pink neon sign looms over a stand stocked with just one author's books: "Ferrante Fever." This is where the documentary's title comes from, distributed in cinemas until 4 October by QMI Stardust. Giacomo Durzi, originally a story editor for Sky Italia's original productions, is the film's director, which he devised and wrote along with Laura Buffoni. After its cinema release, Ferrante Fever, produced by Malìa with RAI Cinema, is set to air exclusively on Sky Arte HD and is sold by the outfit The Match Factory

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Filmed between Italy and the United States, the film is born from the same passion that devours readers of Elena Ferrante. But the film doesn’t necessarily go in search of the identity of the "faceless writer,” whose novels have sold more than five million copies worldwide. The film is not looking to uncover the truth behind the pseudonym. Instead, it hopes to discover the secret to her success, the nature of the fever displayed in McNally Jackson's shop window. How was she able to create a story that would conquer readers over the course of 12 years?

Exceptional witnesses provide answers, but so do the writer's own words, and the places and protagonists in her novels. The film opens with the voice of Hillary Clinton, who, while on the radio during the 2016 presidential campaign says: " You know what I have started reading and it’s just hypnotic is the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I just couldn't put it down.  I was captured by the faces, characters, sounds..." Then we hear the voice of Anna Bonaiuto – protagonist in Nasty Love by Mario Martone, the film adapted from Elena Ferrante's first novel – she reads a few sentences from Frantumaglia, which is a collection of thoughts that accompany the writer's work.

"There's something in her way of writing," says Lisa Lucas – executive director of the Nation Book Foundation – that responds to the needs we have when we read or watch a film." "She goes in deep," says writer and screenwriter Francesca Marciano "she takes you by the hand and forces you to go even further, with her." Ann Goldstein, the English translator, says she fell in love with the first sentence of Days of Abandonment. "Simple things are, in a sense, universal, but she writes about them in a way that makes them no longer seem that way. Ferrante examines emotions and defines things in a way you would never consider doing so.” Jonathan Franzen states that "she did what great writers do: opened our eyes to a universe that has always been there."  James Wood's article in the New Yorker certainly contributed to her American success "which is like being named Baronet by the Queen of England," explains Francesca Marciano. And Roberto Saviano, who is from the same area as Ferrante, recently remarked:"This is the miracle of Ferrante. She exists only in books; her anonymity is a chapter in her work." 

Giacomo Durzi adopts a classic documentary style, comprised of interviews, images and animation by Mara Cerri and Magda Guidi. We'll leave him to talk enthusiasm, along with the wisdom of the writer herself: "The only possibility was to learn how to resize myself, to overturn it in the books and to take it away, to consider writing as what separates us, the moment it’s conceived." 

(Translated from Italian)

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