Film Reviews

‘Ferrante Fever’ Celebrates the Polkaroo of Literature

But the doc itself is completely forgettable

Ferrante Fever
(Italy/France, 74 min.)
Dir. Giacomo Durzi

Elena Ferrante is the Polkaroo of world literature. The elusive Italian author of My Brilliant Friend and Troubling Love has legions of fans, yet her identity is a mystery. She’s a ghost, a recluse, and an enigma. Her books are international best-sellers, however, even though she’s never made a public appearance and refuses to do interviews. There’s something about her books that causes a near-mania in her legions of fans and it’s a credit to her work that she’s a success in an age when celebrity drives the price of fame.

There’s a great film to be made about Elena Ferrante, her work, and the implications of her anomalous fame, but Ferrante Fever isn’t it. This breezy documentary goes heavy on adulation and light on insight as director Giacomo Durzi interviews many of Ferrante’s high-profile fans including American authors Jonathan Franzen and Elizabeth Strout. The doc amounts to name-dropping—even Hillary Clinton is a fan!—as it offers a few bits of passage analysis and literary criticism.

Ferrante Fever repeats many of the same talking points over and over as the speakers discuss what makes them love a Ferrante book so much. (The details! The sights! The sounds! The women! The prose!) It’s a missed opportunity, though, since Durzi doesn’t ask the harder, deeper questions like why celebrity plays such a role in the success of contemporary authors or how anyone even manages to be successful when she doesn’t do interviews in the age of full-throttle PR machines and 24/7 news cycles.

It’s a refreshing miracle to hear that readers care more about the work than the author, but the doc also assumes that everyone watching it has already exhausted themselves with the mystery of Elena Ferrante’s identity. In an age in which anyone can proclaim oneself an expert, or when “authors” like James Frey and J.T. LeRoy can find success by selling themselves as something they’re not, there are multiple angles for discussion that don’t appear here. It never rises above fandom and cursory analysis. This forgettable doc is ironically mild considering the fever it celebrates.

Ferrante Fever opens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on June 28.