The documentary “Ferrante Fever” is, as its title suggests, less about Elena Ferrante — the enigmatic, pseudonymous Italian writer whose Neapolitan novels have enthralled readers around the world — and more about the author as a literary phenomenon. It’s an anodyne fan flick that casts only furtive glances in Ferrante’s direction, as if the filmmaker, Giacomo Durzi, were a reverential subject who doesn’t dare to make eye contact with the queen.
His approach is worshipful, decorous and therefore strikingly incongruous with the layered, ambivalent genius that his film pays tribute to — a novelist who has made a point to excavate the darker recesses of a woman’s experience. Ever mindful of what Ferrante has called her deliberate “absence,” Durzi has opted to have writers, editors and other cultural figures explain what it is they find so beguiling about her books.
Their comments are generally smart and incisive, what you would want from an expert panel — though at least on a panel people have the chance to respond to one another, and even to disagree. Here, they’re presented as a series of talking heads; any possible nodes of friction, or dramatic tension, aren’t really explicated, much less explored.
What Durzi does include are numerous shots of the Manhattan skyline interspersed with gauzy scenes of a woman’s figure in a gray coat and a cloche hat, her face obscured, walking around New York City as a voice-over narrates excerpts from Ferrante’s letters and interviews. It quickly becomes clear that the time it takes to sit through this padded mash note would be better spent immersed in Ferrante’s mesmerizing work instead.
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Not rated. In Italian and French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 14 minutes.
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