Elena Ferrante on Film: The Days of Abandonment/Troubling Love [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (14th October 2018).
The Film

With the recent HBO/Rai co-produced miniseries adaptation of the first of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante's "Neapolitan Novels" quartet in My Brilliant Friend and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal's announcement that she is stepping behind the camera to adapt a film version of Ferrante's "The Lost Daughter", the two previous award-winning, critically-acclaimed adaptations of Ferrante's bestselling novels are seeing release in the United States courtesy of Film Movement, allowing English-speaking fans of the series and fans of the books (all translated into English by Europa Editions) to assess two very different ways in which the enigmatic author's works have been translated to the screen.

David (Best Music): Goran Bregovic (nominated) and Best Song: Goran Bregovic and Carmen Consoli (nominated) - David di Donatello Awards, 2006
Golden Globe (Best Screenplay): Roberto Faenza (winner), Special Jury Award: Margherita Buy (winner), and Best Actress: Margherita Buy (nominated) - Golden Globes (Italy) 2006
Golden Lion: Roberto Faenza (nominated) - Venice Film Festival, 2005

The Days of Abandonment: When her architect husband Mario (Inspector Montalbano's Luca Zingaretti) announces that he needs some space and walks out on translator Olga (His Secret Life's Margherita Buy) and their children Ilaria (Sara Santostasi) and Gianni (Simone Della Croce), Olga at first takes him at his word only to be subsequently convinced by her best friend Lea (Gea Lionello) that it means that he already has someone else in his life. Mario refuses to answer her questions, becomes belligerent when she insists, but an accident involving slivers of a broken wine bottle have him believing that she is trying to harm him when she tries to be more domestic and desirable. Perplexed about what might have made her husband fall out of love with her, and ashamed because of it, she tries to keep up a brave face in front of inquisitive neighbors – including Damian (Queen Margot composer Goran Bregovic), the "gypsy" composer beneath her who complains about the leak in his ceiling – and her judgmental mother. The only person who seems to be fully aware of the trouble in their household is the beggar woman (Come Into the Light's Alessia Goria) who has set up lodgings on the park bench across from her apartment building. Trying to distract herself with her work, Olga starts to see parallels in the novel she is translating and a memory from her childhood of a woman her neighbors called "poor wretch" who lost her husband and children, and wandered the town for years before one day walking into the sea and washing up days later. Lea convinces Olga to go out on the town with her, but she rebuffs the attentions of a man she meets. She throws herself at her neighbor Damian as well, but runs away when she realizes that she was trying to imagine him as Mario. When she happens upon Mario and discovers that the woman he is seeing is eighteen-year-old student Carla (The Woman of My Life's Gaia Bermani Amaral) and she sees that the girl is wearing her mother's earrings that were the only things missing when she and her children returned home one day to discover the front door unlocked, she finally gives vent to her repressed anger on them. Carla also blows up at her mother over the phone and becomes short with her own children; however, it is not simply stress, as she starts experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations in which she is haunted by the poor wretch. Everything comes to a head on New Year's Eve when the dog gets into a can of bug spray, Gianni becomes gravely ill, and Olga has trouble distinguishing her daughter playing dress up from her romantic rival Carla.

Initially seeming like a mundane domestic drama tarted up with a middle class setting of relative opulence, The Days of Abandonment is a look at the inner life of a woman, or a sort of woman, raised to believe that one gives over all of themselves to marriage and family; that is not to say that she becomes a barefoot and pregnant housewife physically, but her sense of self is so wrapped up in being half of a couple. She is unable to comprehend that her husband fell out of love with her for no apparent reason, and is told by her husband to distract herself instead of obsessing about it, but her perception of him refusing to answer her or even acknowledge the tawdriness of an affair eats away at her and makes her angrier. The audience is to perceive that her slipping away from reality is not a Repulsion-esque attack of her inner demons but an individual experience of emptiness. The ending is open, in that it appears on the surface to be a happy ending but there is a sense of ambiguity in the narration as Olga tells us that she pretended to believe her new romantic partner's assurances (and metaphors) about Olga going through a period of recovering her ability to see the world through her own eyes rather than those of her husband. Director Roberto Faenza – whose work apart from Corrupt has gone largely undistributed in English-speaking countries – has been active since the late sixties, and his approach to the adaptation of the novel is guided by his view that words and images are very different languages. A letter with script notes – reprinted in Film Movement's booklet from Ferrante's own "Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey" – expresses Ferrante's reserve about her trouble visualizing his translation of much of the interior world into images as well as her concerns about the significance of other elements being either over- or underemphasized or left out altogether, while in her written answers to questions submitted by journalist Angiola Codacci-Pisanelli (also reprinted in the booklet) she states that suggests that Faenza's claim that he "humanized" the character of Mario had more to do with the "difficulty of keeping together, on the screen, the bourgeois realism of a common marital crisis and a first-person woman's journey that is tense, anguished, borderline." The film was a popular success in Italy, and it seems more so due to Buy's compelling central performance more so than Faenza's cinematographic embellishments or the bravura scoring by Bregovic (who gets to perform and conduct a piece onscreen during a concert sequence).

Palme d'Or: Mario Martone (nominee) - Cannes Film Festival, 1995
David (Best Director): Mario Martone (won), Best Actress: Anna Bonaiuto (won), Best Supporting Actress: Angela Luce (won), Best Producer(s): Angelo Curti, Andrea Occhipinti, and Kermit Smith (nominated), Best Cinematography: Luca Bigazzi (nominated), Best Editing: Jacopo Quadri (nominated), and Best Sound: Mario Iaquone and Daghi Rondanini (nominated) - David di Donatello Awards, 1995
Golden Ciak (Best Screenplay): Mario Martone (won), Best Cinematography: Luca Bigazzi (won), Best Sound: Mario Iaquone and Daghi Rondanini (won), Best Supporting Actor: Gianni Cajafa (nominated), Best Supporting Actress: Angela Luce (nominated), Best Costume Design: Metella Raboni (nominated), and Best Editing: Jacopo Quadri (nominated) - Golden Ciak Awards, 1996
Golden Goblet (Best Actress): Anna Bonaiuto (won) and Best Director: Mario Martone (winner) - Golden Goblets, Italy 1995

Troubling Love: Comic book artist Delia (Il Postino's Anna Bonaiuto) lives in Bologna away from her native Naples, but her mother Amalia (The Decameron's Angela Luce) has remained a fixture in her life with regular visits that she tolerates. When Amalia does not turn up for her birthday, however, Delia telephones her only for her jolly (possibly drunk) mother to tell her that a man is with her before hanging up. Two times that night Delia's sleep is interrupted by calls from her mother who is still laughing even as she communicates a possible threat to her life and then her plans to "take a swim." Two days later, her mother's body washes up on the beach. Delia returns to Naples for the funeral and to handle her mother's affairs for her busy married sisters Rosaria (Love & Anarchy's Lina Polito) and Wanda (Marita D'Elia). During the funeral procession, her uncle Filippo (Gianni Cajafa) threatens onlooker Caserta (Giovanni Viglietti), a "botherer of women" who Delia recalls was a black market dealer after the war who found buyers for her father's (Gomorra's Italo Celoro) paintings. She learns from the police that her mother was wearing only a set of very age-inappropriate lingerie when her body was found, and longtime family friend and neighbor Signora De Riso (Anna Calato) reveals to Delia that her mother had a gentleman caller but is reluctant to say more. While spending the night in her mother's apartment, Delia receives a phone call from Caserta who calls her Amalia and offers to return the missing suitcase that her mother packed to visit her in return for something in the apartment that belongs to him. He refuses to meet her and manages to evade her when she lies in wait for him. In the suitcase, she discovers similar undergarments and a sexy red dress that no more fit the image she has of her mother than what detail De Riso provides about her mother's changeable and untrustworthy character in the company of Caserta. Uncle Filippo is reluctant to tell her anything about Caserta while angering her by disparaging her mother while defending her abusive father. Filippo accompanies when she travels to the lingerie store under the guise of trying to return the dress while asking questions about her mother. The boss Antonio (The Professor's Peppe Lanzetta) flies into a rage and throws her out only to track her down later – after she has been abandoned in the rain wearing only the red dress after her uncle took off after Caserta with the intention of murdering him – and reveals himself to be Caserta's son who she remembers from her childhood. He expresses sexual interest in her, but she initially resists as the act triggers childhood memories in which she recalls seeing her mother and Caserta together and telling her father, leading to the violent dissolution of their marriage. As Delia further probes her own memories, she becomes uncertain whether she is being persecuted by Caserta or if she is the one that is reopening old wounds in the people around her who remember things differently than she.

The feature debut of stage director Mario Martone (Leopards), who had previously helmed a handful of shorts and documentaries and would largely work in television in between a few more subsequent features – Troubling Love (although Nasty Love and Dirty Love have been used in references to either soften or at least conceal the potential spoiler to English audiences posed by the original Italian title of L'amore Molesto) is another look at the interior life of a woman in emotional crisis whose previous conceptions of her own identity fall away when examined as an extension of another's personality. The mystery eventually becomes a bit more concrete than that of The Days of Abandonment, in part due to Martone's very literal approach to adapting Ferrante's novel, but his measured cinematic approach gets mileage out of the contrast between Delia's numbness and the just-this-side-of-caricature Neapolitan others as much as the sense of menace in Naples from both the popular conceptions of Southern Italy and the special atmosphere Martone has noted in interviews in the city around the time of shooting when elections were underway. While the revelation of what Delia has been blocking in her memory is not that much of a surprise, her motives as a child and the reveals of the radiating fallout from the event are conveyed in flashback but even more powerfully in adult Delia's brittle non-verbal reactions (so much so that her coming out the other side of her psychological ordeal feels like a literal breath of fresh air even as the viewer is left with a sense that she may have taken some of her mother's attitude towards sexual relations into her own once-stunted outlook). The film was a production of Lucky Red, an arthouse distributor formed by actor Andrea Occhipinti (A Blade in the Dark) and Chicago-born Kermit Smith (Together) along with the Teatri Uniti's Angelo Curti (The Consequences of Love).

Video

Previously unreleased in the United States, The Days of Abandonment was available in English-friendly form on Italian DVD from Warner Bros as well as the British five-disc The Luca Zingaretti Collection DVD boxed set from Odyssey released to capitalize on the popularity of Zingaretti's Inspector Montalbano series in the UK. Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray boasts of being a "new digital restoration" and appears free of the scanner noise and noise reduction of Italian transfer from the decade in which the film was made. Previously available in English-friendly form only on Arrow Films's long out-of-print British DVD, Troubling Love's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfer has an entirely different look and texture in its digital transfer to The Days of Abandonment desaturated flashbacks with modern-day scenes in which the predominant grays and blacks are spiked with saturated red (Delia's dress) and greens (gel lighting). Grain is more prominent but blacks are deep and free of noise.

Audio

The Days of Abandonment was mixed in Dolby Digital and comes to Blu-ray with a choice of lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or lossy Dolby Digital 5.1. The former choice is generally front-oriented with the surrounds more aggressively utilized during the protagonist's daydreams and hallucinations, becoming more lively later in the film to life late in the film as things get more hectic in real life, and particularly during Bregovic's virtuoso stage performance. Troubling Love was missed in Dolby Stereo SR and comes to Blu-ray with the sole option of an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo track. The sound design seems restrained with some surround ambience but not a lot of directional effects but there are times when the sound field is more aggressively employed, notably during a sequence scored by Daniele Sepe's arrangement of "Tarantella de Gargano". The optional English subtitles on both are free of errors, although the latter does not really convey to non-Italian audiences the particularities of the Neapolitan dialect (which required Italian subtitles for release in that country).

Extras

None of the extras are new, but they do provide as much context to the films as they do to how author Ferrante is perceived in Italy. The disc of The Days of Abandonment includes the television special "Elena and Her Books" (17:24) which is a series of interviews with her e/o publishers, critics, and journalists about the Ferrante the "absent author" whose identity is still a question of debate even though she is alive and responds to the publishers, answers interview questions submitted in writing, and communicates with filmmakers adapting her work through letters and script notes. Some attempt to build a profile of her through the content of her work and how it captures the mundane everyday reality (and a certain "masochism of women") while another draws parallels between her texts and those of a male author for whom Ferrante might be a penname (although even he does not support that theory). the behind the scenes featurette (24:07) includes a Q&A session with Buy and Zingaretti answering questions about their characters and Ferrante's novel. Faenza and Bregovic are also present onstage, but the featurette instead cuts to individual video interviews with the two and footage from Bregovic rehearsing with his musicians. The disc also includes three Film Movement trailers.

The disc of Troubling Love includes an interview with actress Anna Bonaiuto (18:55) in which she recalls initially being more interested in playing the mother in flashbacks but then becoming obsessed with the mystery of her character, as well as how the set design, locations, and costumes contributed to her understanding of the character. In the interview with director Mario Martone (25:43), he recalls being inspired by the sounds of the city and while location scouting and the rhythms of the dialogue in the Neapolitan dialect before going into some detail about the casting process, particularly the supporting characters and how he wanted to escape the Neapolitan clichιs specifically with the De Riso character with whom Delia shares some of the film's quieter moments. Very short but most informative is the interview with producer Andrea Occhipinti (3:26) who recalls working with Martone as an actor in theatre and choosing him for the film. He notes that it was the only Italian film at Cannes that year and that it was critically well-received but suggests that the requirement of subtitles for the Neapolitan dialect and the difficult subject matter might have been why it was not more of a hit with audiences. The disc also includes trailers for three different Film Movement releases.

Included in the package is a thirty-two page booklet with an introduction to the films by Giancarlo Lombardi along with several pages of correspondence between Ferrante and Martone (concluding with an incomplete letter she did not send), a single letter of script notes to Faenza (who did not take any of her suggestions so it may indeed be the only communication between them), and her written answers to interview questions submitted by Angiola Codacci-Pisanelli which appeared in the magazine Espresso under the title "Olga, My Happy Madame Bovary."

Overall

With the recent HBO/Rai co-produced miniseries adaptation of My Brilliant Friend and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal announcing her intention to adapt "The Lost Daughter", Film Movement provides American audiences the opportunity to discover two previous award-winning but very different film adaptations of enigmatic author Elena Ferrante's work with the two-disc Blu-ray set of Elena Ferrante on Film.

 


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