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Review: Documentary ‘Ferrante Fever’ is unlikely to satisfy your literary curiosity

Review: Documentary ‘Ferrante Fever’ is unlikely to satisfy your literary curiosity
A scene from the documentary "Ferrante Fever." (Greenwich Entertainment)

You don’t know Elena Ferrante, because the Italian author has worked at staying anonymous. But you know her if you’ve read her celebrated, soul-excavating novels of friendship, class and fate, of which the Neapolitan quartet — starting with “My Brilliant Friend” — has made her a worldwide literary sensation.

As a brisk mash note to her talent and popularity, Italian filmmaker Giacomo Durzi’s documentary “Ferrante Fever” is as disinterested in investigating her identity as her most respectful adherents, among whose ranks are on-camera interviewees Elizabeth Strout and Jonathan Franzen.

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But Durzi’s unwillingness to even acknowledge this particular literary sideshow — outside testimonials to the allure of Ferrante’s successful privacy and a mature woman’s voice-over reading excerpts from Ferrante’s writing — shouldn’t mean abdicating any resonant inquisition into how she became a publishing phenomenon or ignoring the chance for lively debate.

Not that there aren’t smart people gushing over her unforgettable female protagonists, sense of time and place, and psychological storytelling. But “Ferrante Fever” is more like a special edition of your fan club, reveling in the wide reach of her emotionally forensic novels and offering visual aids in the form of clips from movie adaptations (except the HBO series of the Neapolitan novels, made before this doc’s completion), snippets of animation, and montages of New York and Naples. A biography may have been impossible, but in spotlighting a writer who leaves no emotion or thought unexamined, this documentary won’t satisfy devotees hoping for a dive as deep as those their beloved author can produce.

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‘Ferrante Fever’

In Italian and English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also screens 7:30 p.m. April 1, and 1 p.m. April 2, at Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Town Center, Encino; Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Claremont 5, Claremont

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