Elena Ferrante fever has gone into overdrive now that season one of the Rai Fiction – HBO series My Brilliant Friend, based on the first of the Neapolitan Novels by the pseudonymous author, is finally being aired after months of anticipation.On 4 December, HBO announced that it had renewed the project for a further season, covering the second part of Ferrante’s tetralogy, The Story of a New Name.
First published in 2011, this multi-layered tale of the intense, conflictual lifetime friendship between two Neapolitan women runs to more than 1500 pages over four volumes, but that has not prevented it from becoming, in translation, a worldwide literary phenomenon.
One could argue that the third main character, after smart but shy narrator Lenù and her bold, gifted, contrary friend Lila, is Naples itself. The novels are rooted in the real city but also in its psycho-geography, the zones of light and shade, work and play, joy and misery, culture and Camorra, that nestle up against each other in this fascinating, historic urban palimpsest.
Much of the first volume, adapted into eight episodes for TV, takes place in a working-class suburb that Lenù refers to simply as il rione – ‘the district’. It’s clear from several clues that Ferrante had a real suburb in mind when writing: Rione Luzzatti, part of the eastern Poggioreale district, built in the Fascist period to provide low-cost social housing. Consisting of a series of anonymous apartment blocks in an area cut off from the rest of the city by railway tracks on two sides and an industrial sprawl to the west (which has since become a super-modern business district, the Centro Direzionale), it is still today a quartiere popolare where the community spirit depicted in My Brilliant Friend struggles, just as it does in the novel, with problems of crime, many of them Mafia-related.
It’s no surprise that most of the ‘Elena Ferrante tours’ of Naples that have sprung up to cater to fans of the book don’t include Rione Luzzatti in the itinerary: it’s considered too dangerous and downbeat. Even the producers chose not to film here: the Rione of the 1950s, when the book begins, was entirely recreated on a greenfield site in the province of Caserta. Twelve apartment blocks and a church were built from the ground up, while nine domestic interiors were recreated in an adjacent warehouse. At 40,000 square metres, this still active film set is currently the largest in Europe.
As they grow older, Lenù and Lila begin to venture beyond the dark road tunnel underneath the railway that cuts the Rione off from the rest of the city. The Sirenuse Journal’s Naples-based photographer, Roberto Salomone, followed in their tracks to create the following photo essay that mixes Neapolitan locations mentioned in the book with more impressionistic shots inspired by Ferrante’s four-volume epic.
An eloquent symbol of Rione Luzzatti, fictionalized in My Brilliant Friend as il rione. This bridge was built to connect this isolated working-class suburb with the rest of Naples – but it was never finished.
Life is tough – but so is she. A stallholder in Naples’ historic Buvero market.
Under the city’s skin. A butcher transporting his wares the old-fashioned way in Vico Fico al Purgatorio, in the heart of the centro storico.
In Naples, culture is still mostly analogue. Via di Port’Alba, the bookseller’s lane, where Lenù (Elena) feeds her hunger for literature.
Like many Neapolitans, Lenù and Lila are pizza mad. There’s always a crowd waiting to be served at the city’s original pizza fritta (fried pizza) outlet, Di Matteo in Via dei Tribunali.
After the wedding, a Neapolitan couple walk through their neighbourhood, to greet and be greeted by the inhabitants of the quartiere. Deep, unwritten rules of class, status and family debts determine who comes out to greet and who waits to be called on.
Home spills into the street in this city. Here, a woman gathers in her washing after a rare snowfall.
People-watching, Rione Luzzatti style.
The romantic mirage: a view of Vesuvius from the upscale seaside suburb of Posilipo, where Lila’s wedding to shopkeeper Stefano Carracci takes place.
MY BRILLIANT FRIEND is an HBO-RAI Fiction and TIMVISION series produced by Lorenzo Mieli and Mario Gianani for Wildside and by Domenico Procacci for Fandango in co-production with Umedia Producution.
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