He already can sing in Italian! Give it to him!
Earlier this week, news hit our eager shores that Saverio Costanzo would be helming a four-season, thirty-two episode adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels tetralogy. The 1400-page story has already sold 1.2m copies since its publication in the US in 2012. Published over here by the independent publisher Europa Editions, Ferrante’s work has acquired an audience vaster than most novelists in translation or published by indies generally do. “Ferrante Fever” is a legit thing that people say in New York.
News that Ferrante will be involved in the writing of the series is also the most exciting thing to happen in the literary and film worlds since it was speculated that Thomas Pynchon was lingering around the set of Inherent Vice. Like Pynchon, Ferrante is famously publicity-averse and writes under a pseudonym. Great controversy was sparked last year when Italian journalist Claudio Gatti claimed to have discovered she was just some translator with a hot side gig. But this just testifies to the series’ massive popularity.
Documenting the lives of two somewhat ordinary women growing up in working class Naples over the past half century, Ferrante’s rigid and novelistic clarity both poses a challenge to depict it on screen and begs for a visual medium. The novels are peppered with visual motifs and figurative rosebuds, from the very meaningful shoe that Lila manufactures in “My Brilliant Friend” to all the weird dolls that show up in the saga’s final few hundred pages, in “The Story of the Lost Child.” Ferrante uses these motifs just as one does in a film, dangling them like a Chekhovian gun and giving the novels their propulsive page-turnability.
I personally have gotten no less than two mothers hooked onto the enchantingly brutal depictions of marital assault, the hopelessness of living as a women in a world domineered by men and masculine values. But there are naturalistic ups and downs, which help give the novel the feeling of everyday realism and not paper-thin social realism, the kind of sadness you felt last week. For instance, Ferrante’s protagonist at one point falls deeply in love with a duplicitous academic named Nino, who turns out to be a sex addict and is slowly teased out to, generally, not be a great dude. But check out this passage from “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the third installment of the Neapolitan series:
I would have liked him at least to leave with the promise that sooner or later he would return. I wished that he would sleep again in my house, have breakfast with me in the morning and eat at the same table in the evening, that he would talk about this and that in his playful tone, that he would listen to me when I wanted to give shape to an idea, that he would be respectful of my every sentence, that with me he would never resort to irony, to sarcasm.
You know who could really sell those feelings and be a douche? Adam Driver.
Why would the supporting star of a billion-dollar saga turn his talents to an Italian television show, you probably ask? Well, Driver has already worked with Costanzo before, starring in an Italian indie that Costanzo co-wrote and directed titled Hungry Hearts (which I wrote about in a think piece on Driver’s career). The movie is very weird and at times feels like a thinly veiled attack lobbed at vegetarians for not feeding their starving children enough valuable protein. But Driver is great in it, and it won enough awards for Costanzo to get this gig, so people must dig it. If you live in the States, it’s on Netflix right now.
And Driver’s latest starring roles haven’t been in the kind of hot superhero movies that, say, Oscar Isaac has been netting lately. Driver was in Patterson, a contemplative indie about writing and books from edgy cultlord Jim Jarmusch. And as you read this he is being filmed sorta-playing Sancho Panza, in Terry Gilliam’s long-delayed Cervantes-inspired The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. I don’t know if Driver himself reads, you know, books, but his agent clearly wants us to think he does.
One of the few details we know so far about Costanzo’s adapting of the Neapolitan Novels is that they will be in Italian, trouble perhaps for the casting of well-known American stars. Wildside, the production company that will be behind Costanzo’s adaptation, most recently brought us a certain Italian series called The Young Pope, which is massively popular in the US courtesy of HBO and stars American talent. But that is also, mostly, in English. So how will a production company clearly very interested in American audiences bring an Italian-language drama to a crowd larger than the ample number of cosmopolitan Ferrante obsessives? Here’s where I drop that Driver can sing excellently in Italian:
The role of Nino isn’t a large one but it’s essential to the arc of the last two novels and he’s a character that Ferrante refuses to treat like a flat rom-com villain. He’s a villain with lots of feelings about his dad, for instance, something that Driver just might have some experience with. And like Jarmusch, Ferrante and her work offers the kind of brutally uncompromising characters and narrative that someone like Driver has become identified with. “Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature,” she told the Paris Review in one of her few interviews. It’s a phrase I can easily imagine Driver’s character on Girls yelling at some point in the first season (“Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too,” most likely).
Featuring Adam Driver or not, Costanzo’s four-season Neapolitan Novels adaptation will hit small screens in Fall of 2018.