The lying life of adults, domesticated Elena Ferrante

Scrolling Netflix looking for something to watch and ending up enraptured by the gazes of Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, one could come across one of those previews of which it is impossible to turn down the volume, hearing this declaration thunder: «The family is the cradle of disinformation ». It is a phrase of the actor in Baumbach’s latest film, or rather of his character in the new film White noise, which, among other things, tells of the lies and conspiracies that hide in the distance of the things that are said between parents and children. You become an adult when you discover that a good percentage of what your parents tell you is false, facts and episodes that you hear from them at the table are disavowed when you repeat them at school to someone else who tells you that it is not so. For me it was some information that pertained to the Punic Wars. It’s perfect that a few days after the release of White noiseNetflix has also made the series available The lying life of adults based on the novel by Elena Ferrante, the story of a little girl named Giovanna who becomes aware of the fact that her parents are liars, betray each other, and don’t love her unconditionally. The most ferocious betrayal that she routes from childhood into adulthood.

For Giovanna, childhood ends when she overhears her parents commenting on her school results from the kitchen door and letting it slip that she has gotten ugly. Or rather, they didn’t say exactly that, but that she “is putting on the face of Aunt Vittoria”, a person that Giovanna has never known except through the adjectives that her parents associate with her, always grotesque and malicious. “She was a bogeyman from childhood, she was a dry and haunted figure, she was a tousled figure lurking in the corners of houses when darkness falls,” she writes in the book. This comment instills in Giovanna the desire to see this Aunt Vittoria in the face, and to compare herself to establish whether perhaps she looks more like a surly and cruel but authentic woman than her parents, bourgeois and hypocrites, teachers who seem to want only a excellent academic performance. Aunt Vittoria’s curiosity, in addition to pushing her away from her parents in a symbolic way, also does it in a physical way, because Giovanna, from the family home high up in the sparkling and polite Naples of Vomero in the nineties, goes down to Pianto, the Naples of peeling walls, the smell of laundry coming from the sewers, bad words hissed in dialect. Her goal, to discover «what was happening, in short, in the world of adults, in the heads of very reasonable people, in their bodies full of knowledge? What reduced them to animals among the most unreliable, worse than reptiles? Her guide are the brutal words that Aunt Vittoria addresses to her, which force her to open her eyes to what her parents, or adults in general, do, “otherwise you won’t save yourself”.

I have not yet said “in the series” to distinguish it from the book, because at the plot level they are almost identical, unlike the last adaptation that a Ferrante novel has undergone, The dark daughter that director Maggie Gyllenhaal had made into The lost daughter, in which the setting of the Amalfi coast was transformed into a remote island of Greece and the Neapolitan dialect into that of the American Valley. Through an article published in the Guardian, the writer had given the director her blessing, writing to her that it wasn’t important to appropriate the places and episodes of her book, but what counted was that she felt the places and the story she had chosen as hers, the rest didn’t matter. In the film there was the story but there was no Elena Ferrante, while in this series there are both the story and Elena Ferrante. They only appear in a more polite way, some small harmless “white” lie, which neutralizes the sentential tones that Ferrante often has when she describes some scene from the lower neighborhoods of Naples or when she reports the dialect of some character.

It can be said that the character of Aunt Vittoria, for example, has been neutralized. In the book there is a constant tension in defining her beauty (sometimes Giovanna happened to see her astonishingly beautiful, just without harmony, while most of the time she is simply repulsive) and her attitude, always somehow hostile, even in the rare manifestations of affection for her niece, it is accompanied by phrases in dialect shouted with vehemence and ruthlessness. Aunt Vittoria in the series is an unambiguous character. It certainly doesn’t help that Valeria Golino is playing her in top form, which makes it really difficult to drive back into her mind that her character was once thought to be unpleasant. She’s a good Aunt Vittoria, who lets slip words of affection, and she’s not scary at all. The Giovanna in the book looked at her aunt with admiration because she saw in her the manifestation of her future, and she wanted to be found prepared to chase men away or to command them as she did, to become grumpy, narrow-minded, to talk about sex using ancestral words such as “fuck ” without specious turns of phrase as his parents did instead. Throughout the book Giovanna pursues the tension, the manifest destiny, to become like her, to get to the heart of things and not stop to admire the skin using only beautiful words. Even at the cost of becoming malignant. Another white lie lies in the rendering of her relationship with her best friend Angela. The sexual tension between the two little girls is completely chloroformed and when they are a few years old they discover pleasure together by slipping horse-shaped puppets between their legs. He wouldn’t be polite.

And then there are those explanations of guilt and attributions of sentences that almost constitute the book’s mystery (who told mum that dad was cheating on her?) and which are not kept secret in the series, where the unveiling of the family’s betrayals , which precedes its tearing, takes place before our eyes. There are no unsaid words that have always changed, in Ferrante’s books, the pose of the little protagonist – «Quann si’ piccerella, everything seems big to you. Quann si gross, everything seems nothing to you», a metallic background voice obsessively repeats in each episode. Even the district is not so scary as in the words of Elena Ferrante, in this book as in The brilliant friendbecause it’s not a future from which to escape, but it’s a place simply inhabited by people who wander around on horseback and by a few guys who tell you to get into the car without too much insistence how much more boredom, simply harmless.

The lying life of adults, domesticated Elena Ferrante