After selling 30 million copies in the world, the Neapolitan saga signed by Elena Ferrante arrives on television. The series inspired by The great friend, first volume of the successful tetralogy Two friends, premieres this Monday on HBO Spain. It is the first installment of an adaptation in four seasons, one per book, with a total of 32 chapters. The first eight are by Saverio Costanzo, a 42-year-old Roman director who was about to adapt, a decade ago, another novel by this writer whose identity was unknown for a long time until the Italian press indicated in 2016 that it was the translator Anita Raja.
It was the same author who chose Costanzo to direct the series, co-produced by RAI and HBO. "When I read the books, I did not imagine directing an adaptation", acknowledged Costanzo in the past Show of Venice, where the first episodes of the series premiered. "He had just taken to the cinema another best-seller, The solitude of prime numbers, and had forbidden me to do anything similar again. I wanted to avoid the comparisons and the inevitable disappointment of some readers, "adds the director Ferrante who imposed his name made him change his mind in a few seconds." Actually I was not afraid, because we share the same imaginary. If they asked me to do Blade Runner surely I would not know, but this I know what to do. It was like trying on some comfortable shoes. I just had to start walking, "says Costanzo.
This first season is distinguished by its fidelity to the pages that Ferrante wrote. Also for its graphic way of reproducing the violence that surrounds the protagonist girls, the conscientious Elena Greco, alias Lenù, and her best friend, the most impetuous Raffaella Cerullo, whom they call Lila. Costanzo tried hard not to sweeten what the book describes, set in a humble Neapolitan neighborhood during the Italian post-war period. Costanzo also has not made concessions to accommodate it to American taste: the series was filmed in Italian and contains numerous dialogues in Neapolitan dialect. "HBO wanted something authentic, they did not impose anything on me and I could go where I wanted," the filmmaker says. The protagonists are played by a dozen different actresses at different ages and were selected from 9,000 applicants. Only one of them, Gaia Girace, who plays Lila at 15, had an interpretive experience.
The marketing has been able to sell Ferrante's saga as a great story of female friendship. But Costanzo is convinced that the topic of tetralogy is another. "Ferrante's books talk about the power of education, they say that a teacher can save your life and change your destiny," says the director. "Knowledge and culture are the only ways to build a solid soul, that's the most political and provocative idea in the book, even though it's hidden in a story of friendship and feelings," he adds.
The series was shot in Caserta, near Naples, where the Rione Luzzatti, the humble neighborhood where the books go, was reconstructed. "We tried to shoot in natural sets, but it was not possible to get the neighbors out of their houses for so many months," says Costanzo. Like the literary saga, the television adaptation is characterized by its apparent simplicity. The director seems to abandon his style marks to use a deliberate sobriety. Costanzo is pleased to hear the comment. "It was a challenge, because you have to control your ego over eight hours of footage, but the protagonist did not have to be me, but the story, the director is everywhere, but always a bit hidden, it's exactly the same what Ferrante does as narrator ", sentence.
Elena Ferrante participated in the elaboration of the project and supervised the script of the television adaptation. "He only gave us a directive: there had to be a prologue where we could see the protagonist in her maturity," Costanzo confides. The author intervened only by email to avoid losing her precious anonymity. "We do not know who he is, despite having worked with her for a year," confesses screenwriter Francesco Piccolo, a regular contributor to Nanni Moretti and Paolo Virzì. The idea of taking the Neapolitan saga to television was by Lorenzo Mieli, producer of The Young Pope, Paolo Sorrentino's series about the first American pope, which was also a co-production between RAI and HBO. The only condition he raised was that it be shot in Italian. The US network, which had never produced a series not spoken in English, did not put a dent: the vice president of the chain, Francesca Orsi, is the daughter of an Italian born in the Naples of the fifties and absolute fan of books.