Elena Ferrante’s novels found a home on Netflix: what is “The lying life of adults” like?

Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times / Rome
like the
novel by Elena Ferrante
on which it is based, the first line of The lying life of adults of Netflix It is delivered by the precocious teenage protagonist, Giovanna, who listens behind the door as her parents talk about her.

“Before leaving home, my father told my mother that I was ugly,” says Giovanna, sadly adding that he had compared her to her sister Vittoria, from whom she was estranged. It was such a vile insult that it made Giovanna’s mother respond: “Don’t say that. She is a monster.”

Thus, the viewer is introduced to Giovanna (Giordana Marengo) and Victoria (Valeria Golino), new entries into the rich group of formidable female central characters in the world of this author who signs under a pseudonym. Brought to the screen in a recent six-episode adaptation of Ferrante’s 2019 novel, they are as complex and contradictory as Lila and Lenù, the protagonists of Ferrante’s four best-selling novels chronicling their friendship, a version of which appeared in
the wonderful friend
what is to see in HBO Max.

In The lying life of adults, Naples also provides a socially textured setting for this story that propels Giovanna from the innocence of childhood into the world of complex and contradictory adult commitments. Set in the mid-1990s, the series highlights the slippery social position of Italian girls and women, seeking to find a place in a world where men make the decisions.

The series “correctly” takes on Ferrante’s world, according to Domenico Procacci, CEO of Fandango, an Italian entertainment company that produced The lying life of adults for Netflix, who spoke at a press conference to introduce the series in Rome last month. Fandango also co-produced My Brilliant Friend with HBO, RAI and others.

In La vida mentirasa Giovanna travels through two different Neapolitan neighborhoods so drastically different that it is hard to believe that they belong to the same city. She lives in Rione Alto, an upper-middle-class neighborhood developed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s that crowns Vomero Hill with stunning views of the Gulf of Naples. “Outside of Vomero, the city hardly belonged to me,” says Giovanna in the novel.

But in her determination to meet her aunt, Giovanna opens her world to the slum from which her father, Andrea (Alessandro Preziosi) escaped, but where Vittoria still lives: a run-down district called Pascone in the novel, which was filmed in the old industrial district, Poggioreale.

“I don’t think there is any city in Italy where the differences between social classes are as evident as Naples,” Francesco Piccolo, one of the four screenwriters for the series, said at the press conference.

Those of us who do not speak Italian may miss the fact that the contrast is accentuated by the difference in the Neapolitan dialect spoken between the two neighborhoods. In wealthy Vomero, the dialect is spoken “for pleasure, for fun,” Piccolo said, while in the other it is “a totally emotional dialect.”

Understanding Vittoria well, her movements and her dialect, weighed on Golino, who is remembered for Rain Man and who was recently seen in Portrait of a Woman on Fire. She also grew up in Vomero, “on the good side of the tracks”, she said and confessed that she had never seen the “Naples de Vittoria”, to the point that “I had to look for it and understand it”.

A voice coach taught her what to her was essentially a new language. “Although I am Neapolitan, I have never spoken like that before,” Golino said. “It was a sound that I had heard in the city but it was never part of my world.”

Embodying Vittoria’s earthy smut “was difficult,” the actress said. “I had to study words, a way of moving, a way of inhabiting space”, which were alien to him. “So I spent a lot of time in Naples, which is my city, but it’s made of many layers,” she said.

In turn, 19-year-old Marengo, who makes her debut as Giovanna after being selected among 3,000 girls who auditioned for the role, said that Golino had taken care of her throughout the series. “She gave me a lot of advice,” she said, and the two created a strong bond that Marengo thinks she shows on screen, she said.

Marengo said that she felt a responsibility to portray the protagonist of a story that is played out entirely from her perspective. “At first, she was anxious that she couldn’t do it,” she said. But the director and staff made sure she didn’t feel that responsibility, “and that really calmed me down,” she said.

In the novel, Giovanna’s inner gaze is even more pronounced. But Edoardo De Angelis, the series’ director, said that bringing that internal rumination into visual form was a natural extension of Ferrante’s writing.

“Each word contains an evocation that suggests and invokes a multitude of images,” De Angelis said in a telephone interview. “Words always suggested the path to follow because Ferrante’s evocations are always very concrete, even if they begin with an interior thought.”

The Naples by De Angelis involves a cacophony of colors and sounds from the underground music scene in the city’s cutting-edge community centers and nostalgia for summer festivals organized by Italy’s once-mighty Communist Party.

Ferrante, the famed author who has never officially made her identity public, is credited as a screenwriter, and De Angelis, who is also credited with writing the screenplay with Piccolo and Laura Paolucci, said the correspondence with Ferrante had involved “a lot of letters to find a common language.”

When the novel was transferred to television, the story also took an unexpected turn, a plot twist that is not in the novel but that Ferrante signed. De Angelis said that she was well aware that going from the pages to the screen “was an opportunity to express elements that in the novel were only suggested and left to the imagination,” while on the screen “imagination becomes image ”, offering the possibility of “more radical decisions”.

These sweeping choices break new ground, and the episodes end with a series of unresolved questions to be answered, perhaps, in a potential sequel.

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Elena Ferrante’s novels found a home on Netflix: what is “The lying life of adults” like?