Ferrante Fever review – enticing portrait of a literary sensation

Elizabeth Strout, Jonathan Franzen and others on mysterious author Elena Ferrante’s work and persona

Straight-up documentaries about literary subjects are so rarely released theatrically, it’s hard not to cheer when one makes it into cinemas. So hooray for those responsible for nudging this look into the work of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante (author of My Brilliant Friend, The Days of Abandonment and others) into view; it can’t have been easy, even though Ferrante’s books are bestsellers around the world, especially in the US. The fact that the author’s name is likely to be a pseudonym and that no one knows who “Elena Ferrante” is, lives, or looks like, or even if she is a woman, must have made selling this film even more of a challenge. That’s particularly true nowadays given how crucial an author’s appearance, accessibility and physical presence at publicity events is to a work’s success.

Inevitably, director Giacomo Durzi spends a bit of screen time reviewing hints and theories about Ferrante’s real identity, based on close reading of the work and gossip in the Italian literary world. But, for the most part, her peers interviewed here, such as Elizabeth Strout (author of Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton) and the infamously curmudgeonly Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), can only marvel admiringly at her ability to resist the pressure from publishers and the media to participate in the whole literary dog and pony show.

The emphasis is on the work itself, and Durzi draws out insightful comments from Strout, Franzen and many of those in Ferrante’s orbit, such as translator Ann Goldstein, about what makes the work so compelling, such as her sensitive depictions of relationships between women, be they friends, sisters or mothers and daughters.

Sketchy, hand-drawn, watercolour-like animation illustrates passages as they are read aloud, and technically this is competent if not remarkable film-making.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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