Saturday , June 12 2021

HBO chooses a foreign language route from "My Brilliant Friend"

The team responsible for "My Brilliant Friend" can be seen here during the HBO part during the press tour of the Summer 2018 Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo AFP)

NEW YORK: HBO is at the forefront of the "top television revolution" – from "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" to "Game of Thrones" and "Westworld", the American premium network offers high quality content for two people for decades.

On Sunday, the new, non-English language series "My Brilliant Friend" begins, an Italian adaptation of the extremely popular series of novels by Elena Ferrante.

This long-awaited premiere is proof of the globalization of television in the Internet age, and the audience is not focused mainly on America.

Fans of books – Ferrante is a pseudonym, and the true identity of the author is unknown – they are preparing to see the series.

Over 10 million readers fell in love with novels – stories of a lifelong friendship between Elena and Lila, who first met in Naples in the 1950s – since the first of them appeared in 2011.

The rights to broadcast in the eight-episode HBO series were sold in 56 countries. Will be broadcast in Italy at the public RAI station from November 27, and Canal Plus in France in December.

Even in the United States, where books translated into English account for only 1% of the market, four Neapolitan novels were big business, with 2.6 million copies sold, according to Europa Editions.

But the jump to the small screen is still risky for HBO, which works with RAI in the series, which was filmed in Italy by Italian director Saverio Costanzo.

Dialog is actually in a thick Neapolitan dialect, not purely Italian, so even RAI will show a series with subtitles.

"It really hit me," said Costanzo, the Hollywood Reporter.

"I asked why the American network should care for the accuracy of the language, if their viewers would watch the series with subtitles. They replied that they want the series authentic," he added.

"At this point, I understood why HBO is HBO."

Non-English programming is rare in the US
Such attention to detail and authenticity is relatively new in the United States.

In 2009, Quentin Tarantino leaned in this direction to the battle of World War II, "Inglourious Basterds", which was partially shot in German and French.

But until recently TV series have been wary of jumping on board.

Then came the "Americans" (2013-18), an award-winning series about Russian spies living in America during the Cold War, in which there were long sequences in Russian.

And because global TV viewers are increasingly using streaming platforms to find new programs, they are more open to programming with subtitles. The Danish political drama "Borgen" is a striking example of cross-border success.

Netflix's "Narcos" – which was filmed in Spanish and English, and debuted in 2015 – "opened the door for others, showing that authenticity was key to the success of the series," explains Lorenzo Mieli, executive producer of the movie "My Brilliant" Friend.

"We could not have imagined American actresses playing Italian students in the poor regions of Naples in the 1950s," Mieli said at a round table at MIPCOM, the annual trade fair that took place in Cannes, France.

The truth in show business
After making the jumps towards more authentic productions, one more jump remained: how to ensure that the novels have not been distorted in the adaptation process.

"From the first book of Elena Ferrante, I felt that we share the same ideas, and the same stubbornness to look legally on the screen," said Costanzo at the Venice Film Festival in September, where the first two episodes of the premiere show.

Francesco Piccolo – who was the co-creator of the script with Costanzo, Ferrante and Laura Paolucci – said that the author made suggestions during the whole process and gradually became more and more free.

Her suggestions were: "Never defend books, but more about how best to pass ideas on the screen." She had great confidence in Saverio, "said Piccolo.

The HBO series is truly faithful to the book, full of friendship, admiration, rivalry and jealousy. It offers an almost documentary look at Naples in the 1950s, where Elena and Lila meet at school.

Both girls are extremely intelligent for their age and are approaching, trying to avoid violence in their destroyed part of the city, where the old theory of justice "eye for an eye" prevails.

The film, filmed in the industrial wasteland near Naples, enlivens the district that chokes them, with only a shabby courtyard on which to play and the school as the only escape.

The saga of a feminine character is somewhat contemplative, with detailed images of everyday life interspersed with the growing tension between the main characters.

"This series is completely different than what we see on Italian TV," said Mali at MIPCOM.

"We do not see people running in different places – instead, we focus on the complexity of the point of view of women's figures" – he explained.

"I think it can open the door to a new way of telling stories."

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